Innocence bid gets boost
By Miles Moffeit
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 01/03/2008 06:05:12 AM MST
Fort Collins authorities violated evidence-discovery rules when they withheld expert opinions that conflicted with their theory that a 15-year-old Tim Masters murdered Peggy Hettrick in 1987, according to special prosecutors.
In a Wednesday court filing that legal experts say should boost Masters' bid for a new trial, Adams County District Attorney Don Quick's office acknowledged that four items of evidence were kept from Masters' original attorneys prior to his 1999 trial.
They include a plastic surgeon's comments to Fort Collins police Detective Marsha Reed about the surgical nature of Hettrick's wounds. "None of the information from that conversation appears to have been memorialized by Det. Reed," the pleading states.
Other withheld evidence:
• An FBI profiler's memos criticizing the psychological theory that Masters' violent art renderings revealed a fantasy motive to kill Hettrick.
• Details of an unsuccessful week-long surveillance of Masters a year after the 1987 murder.
• Almost 300 pages of research compiled by the prosecution's star witness, some referring to the surgical precision of wounds inflicted on her genitalia and breast.
"It definitely increases the likelihood of a new trial," said George Blau, a Fort Collins lawyer and criminal-justice professor who has monitored the hearings for months. "But it's not over with. The judge has indicated he wants to hear from the original prosecutors."
The filing marks the first time special prosecutors — appointed seven months ago to review Masters' post-conviction claims of a wrongful conviction — have detailed what they see as critical flaws in the handling of the murder case by former Larimer County prosecutors Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, now sitting district judges, and Fort Collins police officers.
Masters was sentenced to life in prison for Hettrick's murder, although no physical evidence linked him to her death.
Under Supreme Court law, prosecutors and their investigators are supposed to turn over evidence favorable to a defendant, such as expert opinions. In this case, the special prosecutors noted in their pleading, the Fort Collins police did not make the evidence available to the Larimer County district attorney's office. Still, the Quick team claims, the prosecutors had an obligation to ferret it out.
District Judge Joseph Weatherby, who is hearing Masters' innocence bid, ultimately will rule whether their actions rise to constitutional violations justifying a new trial.
Legal observers say that the special prosecutors' findings narrow the disputed issues, heightening the prospect that Masters' conviction will be overturned.
University of Colorado law professor Bill Pizzi, a specialist in discovery law, says, "I don't know all the evidence in the case, but if you have experts who say there are real problems here, that undercuts the reliability of the test (established by the Supreme Court)."
Masters' appeal attorneys, led by David Wymore, unearthed the previously undisclosed material spelled out in the filing. Since 2004, they have pursued a new trial, saying ineffective counsel and prosecutorial misconduct led to the conviction of an innocent man.
They say a now-deceased surgeon who was a sex offender, Richard Hammond, is the most likely suspect to have pulled off the sophisticated slaying. He lived across the street from the crime scene.
After reading the pleading, Wymore said he was dismayed that special prosecutors fell short of declaring the discovery violations a breach of Masters' constitutional rights.
"People of courage would go ahead and say that he deserves a new trial," he said.
Co-counsel Michael Heher was working late Wednesday on a response to the motion, requesting an "immediate hearing" to release Masters.
In a statement, Quick said his office plans to call Blair and Gilmore to testify later this month. They have declined to comment while the proceedings unfold.
Special prosecutor Mike Goodbee said Blair's and Gilmore's testimony will help his office analyze the severity of the discovery violations.
"At that point, we'll be able to say, 'OK, we've got sworn testimony from players, and do we offer new stipulations and do we formulate new arguments?' " he said.
Hearings in Masters' bid for a new trial resume Jan. 22. In recent months, his team has called former Fort Collins police officers who say they believe he was wrongfully convicted, as well as his original lawyers, who say the undisclosed evidence would have enabled them to derail the trial.
Special prosecutors also will call Jim Broderick, the lead investigator who built the case against Masters, to testify.
Wymore has argued that the explanations of prosecutors and police are irrelevant to the fact that critical evidence was not released. But, he said, he will use the upcoming hearings to cross-examine each witness for days to illustrate the depth of the "miscarriage."
Blau, who teaches at the University of Wyoming, said he was surprised that the special prosecutors did not tie Hammond, who was never disclosed as a suspect, into their discovery violations.
"This process isn't over with," Blau said. "The alternate-suspect issue is completely ignored. These are major issues, especially to the defense."
Miles Moffeit: 303-954-1415 or email@example.com
Evidence not provided to Tim Masters' attorneys, as detailed by Adams County special prosecutors
• A 274-page document containing opinions and summaries of forensic psychologist and expert witness Dr. Reid Meloy.
• Information regarding "enhanced surveillance" of Masters performed by Fort Collins police on the first anniversary of Peggy Hettrick's murder.
• Comments from Fort Collins plastic surgeon Christopher Tsoi to police that even he would have difficulty inflicting the wounds found on Hettrick.
• Memos from former FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood criticizing elements of the prosecution's psychological theories.