by Robert A. Waters
In many criminal cases, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming. In others, police cobble together a few circumstantial clues to build a case against a defendant. Despite the legal dictum of “innocent until proven guilty,” prosecutors know that juries generally convict, regardless of the evidence.
That was the case with Tim Masters. Not one shred of evidence existed, yet a jury found him guilty of the murder of Peggy Hettrick. Masters spent a decade in prison before being exonerated. A rogue detective, convinced of Masters’ culpability, and a “hired gun” forensic psychiatrist, combined forces with two corrupt prosecutors to convict an obviously innocent man. Detective Jim Broderick, forensic psychiatrist J. Reid Meloy, and Larimer County prosecutors Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair sent a man to prison based on no evidence at all.
On February 11, 1987, a bicyclist found the body of Peggy Hettrick, 37, in a field near the home of fifteen-year-old Timothy Masters. She’d been dragged 110 feet off the road and posed in a sexually suggestive manner. Her attacker had “surgically” removed Hettrick’s nipple and performed an operation called female circumcision. Cause of death was a stab wound to the back.
Masters, a high school sophomore, had walked past the body that morning on the way to his school bus stop. The Denver Magazine reported that he saw the remains but “thought it was a Resusci Anne doll, like the ones used at school to teach CPR. He figured that classmates had planted it there to play a joke on him...”
Hettrick, a sales clerk, lived a quiet life. She’d recently dated several men, but seemed to have no close relationships. The night before she died, she'd spent several hours at the Laughing Dog bar. Patrons reported that she left with an unidentified blonde-haired man.
The day after Hettrick's body was discovered, officers from the Fort Collins Police Department searched the home where Masters lived with his father. (His mother had died four years earlier.) They found a collection of knives and hand-written notebooks filled with Stephen King-type stories and horror movie-style drawings. While lead detective Jim Broderick considered these items to be incriminating, police found no physical evidence linking the 115 pound teenager to the crime.
The list of what they did not find is revealing: no blood; no fibers that matched Hettrick; no shoes matching the shoeprints found near the body; none of the missing body parts; and no bloodstains on the knives. Some investigators expressed skepticism that a skinny teenager could murder a grown woman, drag her body from the curb to where it was found, and, in the middle of the night, commit delicate surgical procedures on the victim’s sexual organs. (In fact, the coroner stated that the organ removal likely was done by someone with the skills of a surgeon.)
Masters was hauled into the police station and bullied for hours by teams of detectives. He adamantly denied killing Peggy Hettrick. Because of the lack of evidence, the teenger wasn't charged.
Masters graduated from high school and joined the Navy. He served eight years, then received an honorable discharge and went to work in California as an aircraft mechanic for LearJet.
Ten years after Hettrick’s death, Broderick arrested Masters at work.
Enter Dr. J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., a diplomate in forensic psychology. Meloy hires himself out to prosecutors. In this case, although he was paid more than $40,000 by Larimer County, he never interviewed or even saw the suspect. Instead, he studied writings and sketches the teenager had made and concluded that Masters had murdered Hettrick.
Even more fantastical was the notion that Masters lived in a fantasy world in which he was obsessed with violence against women. (Never before or after had he committed any crime against women.) Meloy wrote: “A retreat into such a compensatory narcissistic fantasy world, replete with sexuality and violence, works for a while, but at a great cost. The unexpressed rage continues, depression may ensue, and anger toward women as sources of both pain (abandonment) and erotic stimulation builds.”
Meloy continued: “Sexual homicide represents the solution, particularly in the form it took in this case: If I kill a woman, she cannot abandon me; if I desexualize her (genital mutilation), she cannot stimulate me.”
On and on it went--wacky theories clothed in oblique rhetoric. And somehow the jury overlooked the fact that there was not one iota of evidence. Jurors convicted Masters and a judge sentenced him to life in prison. As the winning prosecutors walked out the door, it’s said that Jolene Blair pumped her fist in the air as a victory sign.
Masters would spend nearly eleven years in prison before his attorneys persuaded the courts to send Hettrick’s clothing out for DNA testing. When the results came back, it sent shockwaves through Colorado’s legal system. Masters’ DNA was nowhere to be found on any of the clothing--but that of a former boyfriend was swabbed from her underwear.
Masters was freed, and offically exonerated. The state quickly conducted an investigation into the whole affair. Broderick was indicted on eight counts of perjury, but the charges were later dropped. Prosecutors Gilmore and Blair were censured for withholding evidence. Even so, both became judges and remained on the bench for ten years until 2011, when they were voted out by the enraged citizens of the state. Meloy, unpunished, continues to teach, publish books, and hire himself out to prosecutors.
None of the four who sent Tim Masters to prison for ten years has expressed a scintilla of remorse for railroading an innocent man. Asked to apologize for their crimes, all have refused.
What is the price of ten years of a man’s life? Masters received ten million dollars in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. Is that enough? Or should those who orchestrated this blatant miscarriage of justice be sentenced to prison themselves?