Presumed Guilty

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

January 2012

A Displaced Matricide

At the end of October 1995, Jim Broderick attended a seminar in Denver titled “Sexually Violent Offenders and Their Victims.” The seminar was run by Roy Hazelwood, who had helped set up the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, before retiring to life as a consultant. While listening to Hazelwood’s talk, Broderick thought he heard something that might lead to a break in the case.

In the seminar, Hazelwood pointed out that in many sexual homicides, fantasy is an important element. The thinking was similar to what Broderick had surmised during his interview with Masters in 1987. In a series of discussions with Hazelwood, the former FBI crime analyst offered guidance that helped Broderick better understand the possible meaning of Masters’ sketches and stories. Still, given the nature of the work necessary to determine a motive, Hazelwood suggested Broderick needed a mental health expert on the team. He recommended a forensic psychologist out of California named Reid Meloy.

While forensic scientists apply chemical and biological sciences to law enforcement, forensic psychologists delve into criminals’ minds to glean their motivations and understand their impulses. Meloy was chief of San Diego County’s Forensic Mental Health Division and had served as director of the psychiatric security unit at its detention facility. A prolific author, he worked as a consultant with the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, and, in a mix of science and science fiction, would become a technical consultant with the TV show CSI. Meloy was highly regarded for his ability to make sense of the minds of youthful offenders with sexual obsessions and matricidal tendencies.

After speaking with Broderick in 1997, the psychologist agreed to work on the case for a fee of $300 per hour. Broderick said he and Marsha Reed, another detective, collaborated with the psychologist to identify relevant examples of Tim Masters’ writings and drawings. They converted a conference room into a war room, locked with a key code, so that they could lay out the Hettrick homicide files in a protected environment. Broderick and Reed went through the documents in the private room and assembled nine binders of information ultimately organized into 33 categories, including “Female domination,” “Sudden blitz attack,” “Maiming and dismemberment,” “Killing from behind,” and “Dragging.”

Broderick and Meloy communicated for months, while in Fort Collins, Broderick and Marsha Reed spent long hours cross-referencing the evidence with Meloy’s analysis. They also coordinated with Larimer County chief deputy district attorney Terry Gilmore and his handpicked second, Jolene Blair. The team of Broderick, Reed, Meloy, Gilmore, and Blair worked to develop a plausible answer to the question detectives had put to Tim Masters the day after Peggy Hettrick was killed: Why?

Using Meloy’s psychological insights to complement the circumstantial evidence the police had compiled, a motive fell into place. Meloy sent a report to Broderick on June 22, 1998, which, in part, read as follows:

Dear Lt. Broderick,

The homicide of Peggy Hettrick was a sexual homicide. Sexual homicides committed by juveniles typically involve a low-risk victim of the same race as the perpetrator but substantially older who lives in his neighborhood. Specificity is the key in linking Tim Masters directly to this crime.

• Tim Masters had an enormous amount of personal productions, both writings and drawings that indicate a preoccupation with violence, various modes of death and sexuality. I have never seen such voluminous production of such material in my 15 years of experience with sexual homicide cases.

• The more specific the fantasy production is—such as stabbing from behind, maiming and dismemberment—to the facts of the crime, the greater the likelihood that the person who created the productions committed the crime.

• Sexual homicide perpetrators will often revisit the scene of the crime to consolidate memory and stimulate fantasy usually for masturbatory purposes subsequent to the killing. In this case, Tim Masters visited the body of Hettrick on the morning of February 11, 1987, at 7 a.m.

• Tim Masters also drew, per his own report, a picture of a victim being dragged from behind along a blood trail on the day following the discovery of the body of Ms. Hettrick. This is an accurate and vivid drawing of the homicide as it is occurring.

• It is likely that Tim Masters selected Peggy Hettrick not on the basis of impulse but on the basis of opportunity, choice, circumstance and repetitive viewing.

• She also resembled his deceased mother, which is of enormous psychological significance.

Sexual homicides are often unconscious displaced matricides. In this case, there is ample evidence that this sexual homicide was a displaced matricide, as Tim Masters’ biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly left him when he was 11 years old and died 24 hours later. She left him on February 11, 1983, exactly four years to the day before this homicide.

The killing of Ms. Hettrick translated Tim Masters’ grandiose fantasy into reality. [His alter ego] Mace was portrayed as instilling fear in others. In the days following the sexual homicide, Tim Masters was feared by his classmates and teachers. It is my opinion that he actually enjoyed it.

Meloy had completed the bulk of his pretrial work for the department in seven months, and would earn more than $42,000 in fees. With Meloy’s analysis, the investigators and prosecutors developed a 29-page arrest affidavit for first-degree murder.

Occasionally, Blair or Gilmore wavered and wondered if what they had was enough evidence. Blair later told a television interviewer, “There were times when Terry and I were looking at each other, like, ‘Oh, what are we doing? There’s no way we’re gonna prove this crime!’ ” But each time, Broderick would restore their faith. “Wait a minute! Come on, guys!” he would say, according to Blair. “This is the right thing.” And the prosecutors would come back around.