Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Barry Siegel's "Manifest Injustice"

Barry Siegel is a Pulitzer Prize winning former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and he directs the literary journalism program at UC Irvine where he is a professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Shades of Gray and Claim of Privilege.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom, and reported the following:
My book, Manifest Injustice, chronicles the wrenching, decades-long saga of Bill Macumber, imprisoned 38 years for a double homicide he denies committing. It chronicles as well the ceaseless, quixotic campaign by a dedicated team of lawyers to free him. What drew me to the story was the mystery of it all—a young couple shot to death in a lovers’ lane on an isolated stretch of Arizona desert; the multiple confessions by Ernest Valenzuela, a man whom jurors never learned about; Macumber’s arrest twelve years later, after his estranged wife told deputies he’d confessed to her; a respected judge, haunted by the confessions he’d heard from Valenzuela, trying to get Macumber’s case re-opened. Yet what equally attracted me were the moving personal tales: lawyers at the Arizona Justice Project heeding the siren call of a seemingly impossible obsession; Macumber’s cousin, Jackie Kelley, writing letter after letter from her remote New Mexico ranch, urging the lawyers on; Macumber’s son, Ron, reaching out to a father he hadn’t seen for nearly thirty years. Most of all, there was the story of Bill Macumber himself, who over nearly four decades in the Arizona state prison system became a legendary folk hero of sorts, much revered by guards and inmates for his teachings and leadership.

On page 99 of Manifest Injustice, we see Bill Macumber as he first begins his “career in prison” after being convicted of the double murder. He has lost his final habeas corpus appeal. He has seemingly come to the end of the line. Scared and depressed, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. The conditions are awful.
At Florence…the conditions felt like a dungeon to him—dirty, unsanitary, cold in winter, withering heat in summer, rats and roaches everywhere. The first winter…he nearly froze to death…. Prison officials removed half the roof for repairs, but they didn’t replace it until the next June. Snow fell into the cellblock. Reaching out from his cell, Macumber could catch snowflakes…
Soon after, though, the prison warden transfers Macumber to a far more comfortable medium-security annex. His life is about to change.
Macumber was shocked as the guard drove him through the gates leading into the annex. Everything was green, with flowers all over the place. The annex had no cells; the inmates lived in three dorms. The guard stopped the van at Dorm 3, Macumber’s new home…. Macumber dropped his possessions on his bunk…. He began to unpack, keeping a wary eye on the dorm’s inmates. A slender man in his early thirties had the bed next to his. After half an hour, he turned to Bill and introduced himself. He went by the nickname Coyote. “You shouldn’t worry here,” he told Macumber. ”We all make a point of getting along because it’s such a small unit.”
This moment on Page 99 would become a turning point for Bill Macumber. He resigns himself to his fate and throws himself into creating a meaningful life inside of prison. He vows to maintain a cheerful attitude. In his journal, he writes: “I never again want to cast shadows.”

Yes, the mystery and the personal tales—that’s what drew me to this story.
Learn more about the book and author at Barry Siegel’s website.

The Page 99 Test: Claim of Privilege.

--Marshal Zeringue