The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Colorado history.
The Dreaded Call
On the morning of June 9, 2005, an evidence technician at the Fort Collins Police Department sent an email to Jim Broderick and other relevant parties within the department. “The call we have been dreading came in,” the tech wrote. “Maria Liu’s office called and said that they want to come in and look at all of the evidence for the Hettrick/Masters homicide case, #87-2241….” The tech did not elaborate on why the department would be dreading such a request, but, at the very least, opening the evidence and making it available for examination would clearly be a lot of work.
The battle for access to the evidence would go on for months, even years. Court order by court order, box by box, folder by folder, piece by piece, the facts underlying the investigation began to trickle out. With each element, Liu, Wymore, and their investigative team compiled a more complete scenario of what may have happened the night Hettrick was murdered. The lawyers became increasingly amazed at what appeared to have been withheld from the defense in the discovery years earlier—bookshelves full of documents and binders, including critical pieces of exculpatory evidence, such as internal departmental memos about the surveillance, information that had been the source material for Meloy’s reports, missing notes on an interview with an expert on the precision of Hettrick’s incisions, transcripts of Tim’s discussion with his father during the day of the interrogation, and high-resolution photographs of casts of shoe prints along the drag trail that did not match any of Masters’ shoes.
Their lead investigator, former Colorado Bureau of Investigation lab director Barie Goetz, sifted through the police reports and testimony. He processed dozens of items that remained in evidence, including clothing and knives. He did analysis of the way the blood had flowed along the curb and conferred with Tom Bevel, a blood-spatter expert who had testified for the prosecution at trial. Goetz provided more than 70 photos and physical evidence for Bevel to look at. Bevel said the prosecution had given him only 15 or so crime-scene photos to review, according to Goetz. After seeing the broader array, Bevel told Goetz he was upset that he hadn’t been given more evidence years ago, Goetz said, and that if he had, he would have drawn different conclusions.
In looking at the path the knife traveled through Hettrick’s jacket—slicing through the outside of the coat at one point and piercing the lining and the blouse inches away—Goetz said Bevel began to think this was not an ambush. The staggered cuts indicated there had been a struggle, and that Hettrick may not have been killed at the scene.
To re-enact the dumping of the body, Wymore and Goetz used Liu—about the same size as Hettrick—as a stand-in for the victim. They pulled her and carried her across the hardwood floors of her office. Something was not right. Based on the way her jacket dusted the hardwood, similar to photos of the drag trail, they began to think two people carried Hettrick through the field. If so, the sketch Tim Masters made of the body being pulled by a single person with the victim’s legs creating the drag trail—the one Broderick confronted him with during the interview and that Meloy said depicted the crime as it happened—was not accurate.
When Wymore tried to get his head around the prosecutors’ version of the crime, either trying to understand it or to explain it to friends, he would become irate and animated. “It was crazy,” Wymore said of the scenario prosecutors got the jury to believe. “In order to put you in that moment, I’d have to grab you, take you down to King Soopers. Throw you in the meat locker! Close the door! It’s 38 degrees. Dark. Put you down on your knees, strap on a headlamp—red like the flashlight they said Tim used. Red. A beacon! The color that they put on police cars and ambulances, anything you want to draw attention to! Also, there’s a bomb ready to explode—and you don’t know if it’s going to go off in two minutes or three minutes or five minutes. It could go anytime! I lay the body out in front of you, give you a sharp knife and you’ve got to skim off the nipple, then pull down the jeans, the panties, make this perfect, surgical incision. Leave no trace of blood. You’ve just murdered someone, so you’ve got all this adrenaline goin’, and you’ve dragged a body across a field, so you’ve gotta catch your breath, and you’re beaming a red light, exposed in the middle of a field with a bomb about to blow. And, now you’re kneeling there [carving the corpse’s genitalia].”
More likely, the defense thought, the killer did not act alone. They wondered whether the alibi of Hettrick’s boyfriend, Matt Zoellner, was solid. Further, they speculated that an eye surgeon—who lived nearly as close to where the body was found as Masters—might have been involved. In fact, the view of the field in which Hettrick’s body was dumped was so clear that police used the surgeon’s house as a vantage point during Masters’ surveillance.
Years after the murder, the surgeon, Dr. Richard Hammond, was arrested for using an elaborate system of automated video cameras to make secret recordings of women’s erogenous zones (including his high-school-age daughter’s friends) while they used a bathroom in the basement. Hammond committed suicide before he went to trial. And, over the objections of one of the lead detectives on the Hammond case, and despite a note another detective made suggesting police look into the eye doctor in relation to the Hettrick murder, the video tapes were burned and taken to a landfill. Broderick worked with the city attorney and prosecutors to have the tapes be destroyed in order, he said, to protect the women they depicted.
Presenting Hammond as an alternative suspect became a key defense tactic. Still, Wymore and Liu knew they would need more than an assault on the facts and an alternative theory to win Masters a new trial. That was when Linda Wheeler-Holloway, the first detective to speak with Clyde Masters back in 1987 and the one who came to believe Masters was innocent in Philadelphia five years later, gave Liu a call. Wheeler-Holloway had been haunted, she said, by the conviction ever since Tim Masters was sent to prison. Now, she told Liu, she had an idea.