Arriving at Justice

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

Professor and Director of the Literary Journalism Department, Barry Siegel, spoke to colleagues and students about his newest book.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism Department Director Barry Siegel was the featured guest during last week’s Humanities Author Series, where he spoke about his new narrative non-fiction book “Manifest Injustice — The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom.”

“It is my personal and professional pleasure to introduce the man who writes about mega topics, major ethical quandaries and life choices,” professor of literary journalism and law at UCI, as well as a former co-worker of Siegel’s at the LA Times, Henry Weinstein said.

Born in St. Louis and raised in Los Angeles, Siegel nearly pursued the path toward film-making after graduating from Pomona College, but instead attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism — and earned a master’s degree in 1972.

Freelance writing was his passion, but soon Siegel fell under the pressure that many literary journalists have — he was poor and needed a steady job.

He started writing for the Los Angeles Times in 1976 for the features section, continuing to pursue his passion for narrative journalism.

He established himself as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and left the LA Times in 2003 to become the founding director of UCI’s literary journalism program.

Siegel has written four non-fiction books about the way communities react to murder, tragedy and justice. He has also written three fiction novels, which are set within his imaginary Chumash County on the California’s central coast.

At the start of the event, Sigel spoke about how he was  glad to be able to reminisce about the experience of “Manifest Injustice,” again, as he hadn’t really done so since the book was released in Jan. 2013.

Siegel then proceeded to give audience members a tour into the lives of his subjects and also  talked about the process of reporting and writing.

“To me, this was the most amazing and challenging project,” Siegel said. His search began in June 2010 with a newspaper article and a sense of unease.

“I enjoy exploring the vagueties of the justice system — the gap between black and white decisions, an ambiguity, a grey structure,” Siegel said.

He said the courtroom was a great source of material for the story because two sides were arguing different stories from the same set of facts. While the story initially held some intriguing elements for Siegel, the obstacles were what made this three-year immersion project a unique one.

He took time to show his gratitude for the Arizona Justice Project with a slideshow of his sources and subjects, those who brought him behind the curtain of a murder mystery investigation in progress.

The Arizona Justice Project was a group of lawyers that fought for Bill Macumber’s freedom while he was imprisoned for 38 years for a double-homicide, which he denied committing.

He bonded with Macumber over their common love of writing, and in that, Siegel found the heart he was looking for in his subject.

One of his major obstacles was finding what he calls his “point of arrival.” His students smiled when they heard him reference the term, the challenge with which they were very familiar while working in his class.

The Justice Project had tried to petition for the case to be opened to grant Macumber clemency. Siegel hadn’t known what event would break open the story, and he was on a deadline. He asked Katie Puzauskas at the Arizona Justice Project to give him that precipitating event.

Reporter’s luck came to Siegel in March 2012 when the Justice Project was able to begin the trial for clemency. A satisfied Siegel was able to finish his complete, yet ambiguous, true story and sent a grateful letter that read, “Katie. Thanks for giving me a point of arrival!”

“In my 35 years of reporting, I have been most interested in the human heart,” Siegel said.

This fourth non-fiction book illustrates his search for justice’s effect on the community, a driving force in his first three non-fiction books.