Tim Masters, the man who spent almost a decade in prison for a murder he didn't commit, faced an overflowing courtroom on Thursday afternoon--this time filled almost entirely with law students and sponsored by the Colorado Innocence Project.
Masters and his post-conviction attorneys Maria Liu and David Wymore held a discussion at CU's law school focused around his imprisonment, nuanced injustices in the legal system, the importance of police and attorney work ethic, and how Masters was freed. Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett also sat in on a portion of the discussion.
"This case really raised the question: how do you prove innocence?" said CU Law Professor Bill Nagel, who was sitting on the panel and teaches a course on post-conviction criminal procedure.
In 1987, 37-year-old Peggy Hettrick was murdered near Masters's home in Fort Collins. Masters emerged as the only suspect and was charged with first-degree murder in 1998 despite the lack of any physical evidence linking him to the crime. Masters was not released until 2008 when DNA evidence surfaced that showed someone else, even a few people, had been with the victim.
Unknown fingerprints had been found in Hettrick's purse, as well as unidentifiable hair on her person, evidence that is now unaccountable for and Masters said had been withheld.
The Masters case became the most famous wrongful conviction case in Colorado, resulted in the removal of judges Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair from the bench, formally prosecutors on the case, 9-charges of perjury for Fort Collins Police official Lt. Jim Broderick, and a $10 million settlement for Masters. The case also won five of Masters's attorneys the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association Case of the Year award this year, shortly before Masters was officially exonerated.
What made the case particularly difficult, was that after his conviction Masters's attorneys found that police had not given his original defense team all of the documents from the investigation, known as discovery. The missing discovery plus new DNA evidence resulted in a judge's conclusion that Masters had not been given a fair trial and overturned his conviction.
"This case wasn't that hard," post-conviction attorney Wymore said. "If you would have turned over that 8,000 pages of discovery...That's a problem. When the prosecution and the court do not issue enough sanction to have a reliable trial process."
Masters told the room that today he continues his favorite hobby, working on cars, and he will release a book sometime next year detailing the case, but that he is just happy to get on with his life.
"I had years in prison to be bitter and angry over what they had done to me," Masters said. "And when I got out, the best revenge is to try and live as good a life as I can now. Not let them have any more of my life than they already have, you know. "
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