The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Colorado history.
Turn of Events
Following his release, Masters filed a civil case, and the city and county agreed to a settlement that, although not requiring them to admit wrongdoing, paid Masters and his attorneys $10 million. Then, in November 2010, the residents of Larimer County voted overwhelmingly to kick Judges Gilmore and Blair off the bench.
It looked as if nothing would tarnish Broderick’s halo. He was cleared by an internal investigation in the police department and by a probe by Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney who was appointed special prosecutor to look into Broderick’s conduct. After interviewing Broderick, Buck determined that while there was “misfeasance” in the case, it did not constitute “malfeasance.” Although “some facets of the investigation and prosecution of the Peggy Hettrick homicide are disturbing,” Buck wrote that he did not find that the police had engaged in criminal conduct.
It seemed Broderick would simply take a little criticism from the DA’s report, and that would be it—until new evidence came to light, including an email Broderick had written in 1989 that showed he had helped set up logistics for the surveillance on the second anniversary of Hettrick’s death. The email turned up as part of the discovery in the civil case. According to the district attorney’s office, Broderick had testified in court and told Buck during the investigation that he had not been involved in the case at that time. When that email found its way to his office, Buck—a truth and justice conservative with a son at West Point—was getting ready to run for the U.S. Senate, and he was not pleased that Broderick had apparently been dishonest in their interview.
The prosecutor reopened his inquiry and convened a grand jury, which returned an indictment charging Broderick with eight counts of felony perjury, including allegations he had misrepresented an eyewitness account of whether Hettrick had been seen walking near Masters’ trailer, and that he had downplayed the evidence of the shoeprints that did not belong to Masters. If convicted on all counts, the detective faced up to 40 years in prison and $4 million in fines. A town once certain that Masters was a villain and Broderick a hero now placed the men in opposite roles. One morning, while Jim Broderick was in court, Tim Masters was traveling in Europe.
On a slightly overcast morning last winter, Jim Broderick stands outside his home with panoramic views of pastures and rolling hills. Now cleanly shaven, he wears a red fleece pullover and a gray mesh bicycle cap with a rounded brim. A Christmas tree stands in his living room. It has been a tough winter, he says, not so much because of the charges he’s facing, but because his wife, Karen, was battling cancer and her condition was worsening.
Soft-spoken and gracious, Broderick, who’s on paid leave from the department, says that through the events of the past few years, he counseled Karen to ignore all the hysteria in the press, telling her that eventually the facts would emerge in court. That said, Broderick did not expect that he would be the one in court facing the charges. The detective insists he is not the individual the indictment portrays. “My career does not reflect a manipulative, lying, unethical person,” he says. “This thing has ended up going places we never expected it would end up, but I still believe in the judicial process. Our legal system is not perfect, but I trust it.”
A few weeks later, on February 4, 2011, Broderick walks through a metal detector and takes the elevator to the courtroom for a hearing in the county courthouse in Fort Collins. Karen Broderick sits in the front row, as close as she can be to the defendant’s table, as close as she could be to her husband. She has been weakened by her illness, but appears strong, with her three adult sons and her sister sitting beside her and a dozen friends nearby. She sits with her hands clasped on top of a notebook on crossed knees, her wedding ring prominent on her left hand.
The judge drops one of the eight counts against Broderick, then asks: “How do you plan to plea to the remaining charges?”
Wearing khakis with brown dress shoes, a black sports jacket, a blue dress shirt, and a yellow-print tie, Broderick answers clear and strong: “Absolutely innocent.”
The city has continued to pay Broderick’s nearly $100,000 per year salary, and the city has already spent that much on his legal bills. People in the town have begun expressing anger at the government, particularly at the Fort Collins city manager Darin Atteberry, who, along with the chief of police, has supported Broderick. However, less than a week after Broderick’s plea of innocence, Atteberry unexpectedly announced that the police chief had resigned.
A few months later, in the spring, there was a moment when it appeared the case against Broderick would go away, as all of the charges against him were thrown out when the judge found an issue with the statute of limitations. In the indictment, the prosecutors had noted when the crimes were allegedly committed but failed to indicate when they had been discovered. It was a technicality, because if they had identified that the crimes had been discovered within the three-year statute, the charges could have held. Yet on July 28, two days after Karen Broderick’s memorial service, the special prosecutor on the case announced new charges. This indictment adds two new counts that had not been in the original filing. The detective now faces nine counts of perjury and a prosecutor with 200 witnesses who is ready to charge ahead. Asked directly if he believes if he did anything unprofessional during the Hettrick investigation, Broderick says the allegations “lack substance legally and factually.” A trial is expected to begin sometime this year.