Masters free after nine years

The story of Tim Masters’ murder conviction has been big news in Colorado for many years, long before I got here. In 1987, the body Peggy Hettrick was discovered in a field in Ft. Collins, Colorado. By all accounts, the killing was quite horrific and featured a lot of sexual mutilation. Ft. Collins cops questioned Masters, then a fifteen-year-old high school student. Eleven years later, Masters was arrested and formally charged with Hettrick’s murder.

There was no direct evidence linking Masters to the murder. The circumstantial case against him consisted mainly of voluminous drawings and writings that Masters made before the murder. The prosecution claimed that the drawings and writings, many of which featured graphic sexual violence, revealed a hatred of older women and evidenced a “rehearsal fantasy” for the murder. Some of the drawings had features similar to those found at the murder scene. The prosecution also introduced evidence of a confrontation between Masters and a school teacher. The state’s expert witness, some jagoff forensic psychologist, opined that the confrontation might have been the “triggering event” that caused Masters to move from fantasy to action.

A Larimer County jury convicted Masters of first degree murder and the court sentenced him to life in prison. Masters appealed, challenging the court’s decision to admit documents, the confrontation and the psychologist’s testimony. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in 2002.

Masters’ lawyers never gave up. They kept digging and eventually discovered that the prosecution withheld reams and reams of exculpatory evidence from the defense. That was enough to persuade a judge to appoint Adams County District Attorney Don Quick to serve as a special prosecutor during post-conviction relief proceedings.

The clincher came earlier this month when advanced forensic testing revealed that DNA found on Ms. Hettrick’s clothing didn’t match Masters but did match another suspect. A visiting judge vacated Masters’ conviction on Tuesday.

The Larimer County District Attorney still has the option of retrying Masters, but I can’t see that happening after all the recent developments. According to the Denver Post article linked above, Masters will be the first Colorado convict exonerated via DNA if the prosecutor foregos a retrial.

Meanwhile, another special prosecutor — Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck — is conducting a separate investigation to determine whether Lt. Jim Broderick, the Ft. Collins cop who served as lead investigator on this case, perjured himself at Masters’ trial and illegally taped conversations between Masters and his father. That investigation will also focus on Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, the prosecutors who tried Masters’ case. Gilmore and Blair, both of whom have since been appointed district court judges, allegedly conspired with the cops to keep exculpatory evidence out of the defense’s hands.

Mad, mad props to David Wymore and Maria Liu, the lawyers who’ve been handling Masters’ defense throughout the appellate and post-conviction relief processes. Those folks are true patriots.

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  • Jonathan Getachew  On January 25, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I want to express my deep sympathy to Tim. I can’t imagine what he went through those nine long years.
    Quite frankly I find the whole story disturbing: A man was convicted for murder, and sentenced to life in prison – the main evidence: Drawing sketched by the man and a testimony by some kuku psychiatrist that said that such drawing suggests that the man who did this drawing fantasies about gruesome murders. This was enough to send the man to life in prison. I would not trust this psychiatrist to give me advice about simple matters in life, but a US court uses it to sentence man. I think Psychiatry is a tricky “science” and it should be taken with a grain a salt. Unlike scientist, psychiatrists make not observations but opinions. Just imaging a court giving such weight to Dr. Phil’s “observations and conclusions” that it greatly affects the final sentence. “I know you did it because Dr. Phil says so”. Something like this really happened to Tim Masters; he lost nine years of his life because some loony guy, I am sure no unlike Dr. Phil, suggested he committed a murder. Scary!!!


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