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$10 Million Settlement for Former Colorado Prisoner Cleared by DNA
On February 16, 2010, Colorado’s Larimer County Commission approved a $4.1 million settlement with a former prisoner who served 10 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. The settlement agreement covers employees in the Larimer County district attorney’s office, while claims against Fort Collins police officials were resolved separately for $5.9 million.
Timothy Masters was convicted in 1999 of the February 12, 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick. He was convicted without any physical evidence tying him to the crime, and was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008. Police had suspected him of the murder because he drew violent pictures, wrote violent stories and had seen Hettrick’s body on his way to school but didn’t report it because he thought it was a mannequin. Prosecutors secured a conviction in part through the use of a psychological profile that they claimed Masters fit.
His attorneys said the settlement does not make up for a decade spent under police scrutiny and then another decade in prison. “It’s not like he walked down the street and found a lottery ticket,” stated attorney David Wymore. “He’s had a lot of suffering.”
Two former prosecutors named in Masters’ lawsuit, Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore, weren’t happy with the settlement. “We had just begun to fight this case,” said Blair’s attorney, Kevin Kuhn. “And we would have prevailed in this case.”
“It’s really a shame that to this day they won’t admit they convicted an innocent man,” countered David Lane, another of Masters’ attorneys. “There is no amount of money that can make up for what happened to him.”
Blair and Gilmore, who are now Larimer County district judges, were censured by the Office of Attorney Regulation (OAR) of the Colorado Supreme Court in September 2008 for failing to turn over evidence to Masters’ trial counsel that would have been favorable to his defense. They “directly impaired the proper operation of the criminal justice system in the trial of Timothy Masters for murder,” OAR officials found.
“This is a slap on the wrist,” said Wymore. “This is a form of punishment, but it doesn’t go far enough.... This man spent 10 years in prison, and the prosecutors who put him there aren’t even being sentenced to an ethics class?”
The two judges are up for retention elections in November 2010. “I hope the voters of Larimer County remember the justice denied Timothy Masters regarding the retention of Gilmore and Blair,” Lane stated.
Larimer County’s insurance company will pay $3 million of the $4.1 million settlement and the remainder will come from the county’s special risk management fund. The county spent around $400,000 defending against Masters’ lawsuit before agreeing to settle. See: Masters v. City of Fort Collins, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:08-cv-02278-LTB-KLM.
The City of Fort Collins settled Masters’ claims for $5.9 million in June 2010, bringing his total settlement award to $10 million – or about $1 million for each year he spent in prison. The city refused to admit fault, calling the settlement a “business decision that reflects the financial realities and risks of proceeding to trial.”
That didn’t sit well with Masters. “They’re just trying to cover their ass,” he said. “It frustrates me they won’t admit they screwed up.”
On June 30, 2010, the police detective who helped send Masters to prison was indicted on eight felony counts of perjury. Lt. Jim Broderick, a 31-year veteran of the Fort Collins police force, was accused of lying in affidavits and in court to secure Masters’ conviction; he was suspended following the indictment.
“He framed the guy,” Wymore stated, bluntly. “And to frame a guy, you’ve really got to hide and be deceptive about a lot of evidence, and that’s what he did.”
Masters said he was “pleased to see a glimmer of hope that the man most directly responsible for my wrongful incarceration might be held accountable for his actions to some extent.”
Sources: Denver Post, www.coloradoan.com
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Related legal case
Masters v. City of Fort Collins
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:08-cv-02278-LTB-KLM|