Macumber’s life sentence made it even more difficult to reconstruct the facts of the original investigation. “Better if they’d sentenced Macumber to death,” Siegel writes. “At least then everything would have been preserved for the endless appeals.”
Some of the best parts of Manifest Injustice are Siegel’s mini-portraits of the lawyers and law students. The two top lawyers, both law professors, are studies in contradiction. The respectful tension between them drives much of the story:
“They revered each other, but Bob Bartels’s measured caution at times conflicted with Larry Hammond’s impetuous optimism. Where Hammond, far less skeptical, invariably wanted to run to court with a petition, Bartels often favored further investigation.”
After decades of experience, each had concluded that too often a criminal trial is not a search for truth but rather a clash of narratives:
“In constructing stories, lawyers recognize only the evidence consistent with their theory of the case. So do the police, the forensic experts, and the judges and — finally — jurors. Everyone sees what they want, sees what fits their particular take.”
Manifest Injustice has scenes that surpass any TV crime drama: Macumber’s reconciliation with one of his three sons; the mix of despair and enthusiasm of the defense team; the cliffhanging nature of various legal maneuvers.
In 2012, when Macumber was 77 and sick from old-age ailments made worse by years behind bars, his lawyers had a final shot at presenting his case.
As his book reaches its climax, Siegel notes that to Hammond, “Legal tactics often reminded him of a chess game.” If so, Manifest Injustice suggests it’s a game in which justice can get lost in the battle between contestants.
Tony Perry reviewed this book for The Los Angeles Times