Timothy Masters (not a false confession case), a man many believe was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Peggy Hettrick in 1987, walked out of prison for the first time yesterday after serving 10 years. In a classic case of tunnelvision, local police and prosecutors (Fort Collins, CO) focused almost exclusively on Masters, who was only 15 years of age at the time of the crime, because he lived closely to where the crime occurred, claimed he saw the body on the morning after Hettrick's death but did not report it to police, and because police found violent drawings in Masters's home. Despite subjecting the teen to hours of grueling, accusatory interrogations (captured on videotape), Masters held his ground, insisting that he was innocent of the crime. Nevertheless, police officers continued to pursue him as a suspect, finally bringing charges against him nearly a decade after Hettrick's death. The case against him was all smoke and mirrors -- not a shred of physical evidence linked him to the crime -- he was convicted largely on the basis of a forensic pyschologist's opinion that Masters's drawings were those of a killer. The case has divided law enforcement and others in Fort Collins for years, even causing several detectives to decry the conviction, but Masters's convictions were affirmed by Colorado courts at every level. For the past year, a team of defense attorneys led by David Wymore and Maria Liu, have been litigating a post-conviction motion and have exposed police and prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation, including the destruction of potentially exculpatory evidence and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence of other suspects that could have been crucial to the defense. The final straw came last week when new, sophisticated DNA testing from a lab in the Netherlands, dealt the State's case a fatal blow. The evidence not only excluded Masters but identified one of her former boyfriends who was a suspect before tunnelvision took over.
The special prosecutor who did not oppose bail for Masters has several weeks to decide how to proceed but it is doubtful that charges will be reinstated against Masters. Once he is exonerated, he will become the first DNA exoneration in the state, leaving all to wonder just how many more Tim Masters are languishing in prison.
After my previous post commended the Times Herald Record and Lansing State Journal on their excellent investigative reporting in the Lebrew Jones and Claude McCollum piece, a valued reader wrote and told me to check out Miles Moffeit's incredible work covering the the Masters' case in the Denver Post. I have and concur that it is a first rate piece of investigative journalism, one that also utilizes video and web-based technology to make the case for Masters' innocence. Check out some of this fine work, especially the video "Shaky Evidence" at: