Feature

Presumed Guilty

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

January 2012

Handcuffs and Chains

Masters heard a pounding. Boom! Boom! Boom! It was the morning of August 10, 1998, and the 27-year-old lay in bed. The noise stopped. Then, again. Boom! Boom! Boom! Masters’ rottweiler, Misty, jumped up and ran, barking, toward the front door. Boom! Bark! Bark! Boom! Masters climbed out of bed in green shorts and a white T-shirt. He saw plainclothes police officers on his doorstep and a police car parked across the street. Initially, local officers entered Masters’ house. One of the cops said, “Tim Masters, you are under arrest for the murder of Peggy Hettrick.” A detective wearing a dark suit and tie stood nearby watching. It was Broderick.

After earning an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1997, Masters had taken a job with Learjets in Wichita, Kansas. Within a year, he’d moved to Ridgecrest, California, where he had bought this house a few hours’ drive from where his sister lived. Now an aircraft mechanic, Masters was content living what he thought was a perfectly fine, rather unremarkable and ordinary life in California. He did not recognize the man in the suit who just barged into this life. He did not know it was Broderick, who had been tracking him for 11-and-a-half years.

Seven months later, the nightmare got worse. At a seven-day trial in March 1999, during which prosecutors did not present any physical evidence linking Masters to the crime, Masters was convicted of first-degree murder. As the judge read the verdict and sentenced him to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole, Masters gazed vacantly into the air.

In a hallway outside the courtroom, more than a dozen members of his family were crying in small packs when, as they recall, prosecutor Jolene Blair walked by and pumped her fist in celebration. Masters was assigned to the Buena Vista Correctional Facility and taken to the medium-security prison 8,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains, about 120 miles southwest of Denver, to spend the rest of his days.

 

A New-Era Cop

Following Masters’ conviction, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair earned gubernatorial appointments as district court judges, and Jim Broderick continued a charmed life. A&E’s Cold Case Files featured the detective in an episode about the Hettrick investigation. He received praise and public acclaim.

The third oldest of seven in a closely knit Catholic family, Jim was the son of a United Airlines pilot. He attended Mullen High School in Denver and entered Heritage High as a sophomore, a new school closer to the family’s home in Littleton. A middle-distance runner in track, he played defensive back in football. He did a lot of camping and skiing during high school and liked to be in the mountains. After Heritage, he went to Colorado State University. A friend, Jim Stofer, remembered that Broderick worked one summer with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office while in college. “He always knew what he wanted to do,” Stofer said.

To many, it seemed that Broderick’s career was on the rise from the day he applied to be a cop while still a college senior. The top reference on his application was Red Drake, a Denver detective and the father of one of Broderick’s high school friends. Jim also got to know Drake’s daughter, Karen, who was a student at Heritage. They were high school sweethearts, got married in 1979, and had three sons.

When Broderick joined the Fort Collins Police Department in 1979, it had 69 officers and operated more like the Denver Police Department of old—when tough guys ruled the city’s streets and ran the department—than a modern law-enforcement organization. Broderick entered the ranks with a degree in political science, with a focus on criminal justice, and, as the department evolved, he took continuing education classes, attended seminars, and spoke to community groups on crime prevention and personal safety.

Broderick had the aura of the most popular kid in school, colleagues said, a low-key charm and a pleasant smile that attracted followers. He also showed great promise. One of his supervisors was Tom McLellan, who worked with Broderick on a number of big cases, including Broderick’s first homicide investigation. “He was meticulous, dedicated, and had a great determination and attention to detail,” McLellan says. “He was willing to sacrifice what it took to be a great detective.” Within five years, Broderick had received more than a dozen commendations, including two from the chief of police.

 

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