crimesider

New murder charge for man exonerated in 1980 killing

William Macumber, left, and Andre Davis AP Photo/Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office/Illinois Department of Corrections

It's been nearly two weeks since news broke that William Macumber, a man who served nearly 40 years for a double murder in Arizona before his conviction was tossed out on appeal, is back behind bars, accused of sexually assaulting a child. Now, a murder exoneree in a Chicago case - Andre Davis - is back behind bars, too; charged with slitting a 19-year-old's throat.

In both cases, organizations dedicated to helping the wrongfully convicted worked tirelessly to free these individuals from prison. Do their recent arrests cast doubt on their innocence in the crimes with which they were initially charged, and then cleared? And how often do people who are exonerated or have their convictions thrown out go on to commit violent crimes?

"Anecdotally, I know of very, very few people who have gone on to commit serious felonies after having been exonerated," Paul Cates, a spokesperson for the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing, told CBS News' Crimesider. "Of the 316 DNA exonerations, there have been very few. The vast majority have gone on and done surprisingly well."

The Innocence Project did not work with either Macumber or Davis.

Samuel Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, agrees with Cates, telling Crimesider that based on his experience, it is rare that an exoneree is rearrested for a violent crime.

But, says Gross, it's not unheard of and when it does occur, it's "tragic" and "terrible."

"It's fully possible for someone who is innocent of one crime to be guilty of another," Gross, speaking in general terms, said.

"We would like to think that people always behave the same way - good people are good and bad people behave badly -- because it would make life simpler. In fact, you don't always know," he added.

A study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology -- a student-run publication at Northwestern University School of Law -- tracked the behavior of 118 exonerees following their release, and found that nearly 17% of them were convicted of a violent offense after their release.

When news of Macumber's arrest on sexual assault charges broke, the Arizona Justice Project, the organization that worked to help free him, released a statement to Crimesider saying they were aware that their former client was in custody and that they "are sensitive to this difficult situation and care about the people involved."

The Arizona Republic newspaper was first to report that the 78-year-old Macumber had been arrested in Denver in October 2012 on four counts of sexual assault for crimes allegedly beginning in April 2013, five months after he was released from prison.

According to the paper, the alleged victim is a young female relative of Macumber. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Macumber first made headlines when he was arrested in 1974 on charges stemming from the 1962 killings of 20-year-olds Joyce Sterrenberg and Timothy McKillop. He was convicted in 1975 and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was tossed out on appeal but he was re-tried and convicted yet again in 1976.

In 2009, after the Justice Project raised doubts about the case, Arizona's Board of Executive Clemency voted unanimously to release him, writing, "There is substantial doubt that Mr. Macumber is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted," according to CBS affiliate KPHO. The governor at the time reportedly rejected the recommendation to release him, without explanation.

It wasn't until November 2012 that Macumber was freed after attorneys working on behalf of the Arizona Justice Project sought a new trial. Prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to retry the case. Macumber subsequently pleaded no contest to second-degree murder under a plea agreement with prosecutors and was sentenced to time served.

Macumber has always maintained his innocence in the murders and the Arizona Justice Project stands by him, even despite his most recent arrest on the child sex abuse charges.

"The facts about the 1962 case for which we represented Bill have not changed nor has our confidence in him," the organization said in its statement.

Cates, of the Innocence Project, agrees that Macumber's most recent arrest in no way indicates guilt in the original case.

And, says Cates, the Arizona Justice Project should in no way be held responsible if, in fact, Macumber is found guilty of the sexual assault charges.

"Their job is to uncover injustice and people who have been wrongfully convicted shouldn't be punished for crimes they didn't commit," Cates said of the organization.

Professor Gross agrees.

"If the idea is to prevent people from committing crimes by locking them up, we could lock up the whole population," he said.

In Andre Davis' case, Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions helped him get his conviction overturned. According to the Chicago Tribune, the organization first became involved with the case at the urging of Judy Stikel, the aunt of the 3-year-old murder victim, after she became convinced that Davis may have been innocent.

The 53-year-old Davis, of Chicago, served 32 years in prison before being declared innocent in the 1980 rape and murder of toddler Brianna Stickel, a crime that occurred when he was a teen.

DNA evidence prompted his 2012 release and an innocence declaration in the death of Brianna. But now, he's facing a murder charge again - this time in the 2013 death of 19-year-old Jamal Harmon.

Prosecutors say Harmon got into a dispute with Davis' nephew over money lost in a dice game. Assistant State's Attorney Robert Mack said the nephew shot and wounded Harmon, and that Davis later cut the man's throat and dumped his body in an alley, according to the Associated Press.

Jane Raley, who once represented Davis on behalf of Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions, did not immediately return a request for comment on the accusations against him. Attempts to reach Judy Stickel were unsuccessful.

Regarding the new allegations against both William Macumber and Andre Davis, University of Michigan law professor Gross said the groups that worked to clear them in previous cases, "do not bear responsibility for it."

But he also said "I'm sure they're very unhappy."

And, he told Crimesider, "As a researcher, one of the things you deal with is the horrible costs of violent crime to everybody involved. I have no doubt that everybody involved is very concerned."

  • Stephanie Slifer

    Stephanie Slifer covers crime and justice for CBSNews.com.

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