Jun 152010
Authors: Rachel Childs

Despite earning $10 million in settlement rewards last week, lawyers for Timothy Masters said justice has yet to be served.

Attorneys David Lane and Eric Fischer said the only way Fort Collins can recover from this case of social injustice is to “clean the entire house” of city and county officials responsible for the pursuit of Masters.

Masters was only 15 years old when named as the primary suspect in the brutal 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

Last week, the city of Fort Collins awarded a record $5.9 million civil rights lawsuit settlement to the formerly released convict. This follows a $4.1 million settlement given to Masters by Larimer County in a suit against the city officials, attorneys and law enforcement involved in the investigation of his case.

The city paid roughly $1.6 million of last week’s settlement while the city’s insurance will pay for the rest.

Masters, then 39, sought to charge several city and police officials with a list of offenses revolving around violations of his due process rights during his 1999 trial.

Hettrick’s ghost white body was found in a field behind Masters’ home. Her body had been stabbed, stripped and sexually mutilated.

Masters, then a teenager, was the first to be questioned by investigators after his father admitted to seeing his son pause in the field on his way to school.

Police arrested him in 1998, 11 years after the murder, after they said they had gathered a large amount of circumstantial evidence against him.

“Tim Masters is a situation where they affirmatively framed an innocent man, where they hid evidence from the defense that would have gotten him found not guilty,” said Lane, who handled the civil rights suit.

In a 1999 trial, Masters was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder based on expert testimony and circumstantial evidence. Ten years later, he was released when expert testing found no trace of his DNA on Hettrick’s body. 

Although free, Masters was not officially exonerated. He can be tried if investigators find new evidence pointing to him.

“There are no charges pending against Tim Masters, his conviction was vacated,” Lane said. “To me, that’s exonerating Tim Masters.”

The Collegian was unable to reach Masters for comment.

The Colorado Supreme Court censored city Prosecutors Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore, who now serve as Larimer County judges for withholding evidence from the prosecution during the trial, including expert testimony and surveillance of Masters.

Investigator Lieutenant Jim Broderick of Fort Collins Police Services was found to have made mistakes during his fervent hunt for Masters, but was not convicted of any crime.

Had the jury known about the evidence hidden during the trial, Masters wouldn’t have spent 10 years behind bars, said Fischer, his criminal defense attorney.

Officials deny any wrongdoing and claim the settlement was to avoid a larger legal battle. Legal fees would have totaled more than $2 million and the trial could have gone to the Supreme Court.

“I think it was a business decision on the part of the city,” said City Mansager Darin Atteberry. “I think what this settlement does is allow both parties to move forward, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Masters’ defense team said this is not the case, and the money is the city’s way of admitting that they treated Masters unfairly.

“When was the last time somebody paid somebody else $10 million because they didn’t do anything to them,” Lane said.

But the Larimer County District Attorney’s office also stands behind law enforcement’s actions throughout the entire investigation.

“I know form my own experience the level of the amount of integrity of this service, and I know that it’s very high,” said Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson.

For Masters and his legal defense team, a hefty settlement does not make up for the years lost.

“If (the city) had any decency, instead of denying any wrongdoing they should be apologizing to Tim Masters,” Lane said.

Hettrick’s case is now pending investigation by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.

The DNA collected from Hettrick was from a boyfriend or family member, Abrahamson said. No suspects or other information could be released according to Suther’s communication director Mike Saccone.

Masters, who lawyers say is finally free from the grip of the legal system, now lives in Greeley and plans on starting up his own business.

“He’s certainly not just going to relax and spend all his money,” Fischer said.

_Crime Beat Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at news@collegian.com. 

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