Presumed Guilty

The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Colorado history.

January 2012

At first glance, his home looks like your typical high-tech bachelor pad. In the living room he’s got a huge, flat-screen Sony TV with Bose surround-sound speakers and a bookcase of DVDs, including the entire set of Police Academy movies. He can’t get enough of the farcical cop flicks. His home-office desk features a massive computer monitor with an icon for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. But then you look around and see that next to the desk there’s another monitor, this one featuring a multiscreen display of real-time surveillance from 11 cameras strategically positioned on the roof and around the perimeter of the property. Then there’s that six-foot-high white fence—a steel, electric gate—and his two rottweilers, Ike and Tina. The place is more like a fortress that helps keep the world at a distance.

Tim Masters, who seems closer to 30 years old than his chronological age of 40, is wearing faded jeans, a blue T-shirt, and well-worn, white running shoes. He has a reddish-brown mustache and a carefully groomed beard. His blue eyes convey an intense attention to detail as he talks about the treachery and turning points that have shaped his life since that morning nearly 25 years ago when he stumbled upon a corpse and became a suspect. The stigma hovered over him during high school and through an eight-year stint in the Navy. It peaked with his arrest in 1998 and his conviction for first-degree murder. It took everything he had to keep his spirit from folding into itself during the decade-long legal battle that ultimately won his release from prison. The events surrounding the case tore apart a town and challenged people’s perceptions of right and wrong, truth and justice, and who, really, were the good guys and the bad guys.

Now, on a clear, late winter morning in 2011, Masters sits with his shoulders pressed against the high back of a worn beige couch in the old farmhouse he bought in rural Greeley, Colorado. With the millions he received in the settlement from the people who locked him away, he could afford a more modern place in a fancier part of town, but he feels comfortable here. It is out of the way. The neighbors don’t pry. He can work on his cars in the driveway. “I don’t really have a routine these days,” Masters says. “I’ve been doing a lot of work on the house, renovating the bathrooms and the utility room, sanding drywall, retiling floors, putting in new cabinets and counters, and doing trim work. Fixing up the house is therapeutic.” He sips at a cup of coffee and glances toward the security feeds.



Dumped in a Field

Early in the morning on February 11, 1987, a bicyclist called police to report what he thought was a body in the middle of a vacant grass and dirt field on the southeast side of Fort Collins. Police arrived to find a woman lying on her back, her arms extended just above her head, a large purse twisted around her left upper arm. The purse’s contents were still intact.

Her jeans and underwear had been pulled from her waist to around her knees. Her light-brown synthetic blouse with buttons at the back of the neck had been yanked above her breasts. Around the woman’s neck there was a gold chain necklace with a gold charm of the Blessed Mother.

Upon closer examination, an officer noticed something odd. The victim’s left nipple had been sliced off. Authorities later found cutting around her genitals, a stab wound in her back, and a pool of blood at the curb that trailed through the field to the body. A checkbook in her purse identified the victim: Peggy Hettrick.