The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Colorado history.
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.
Death and Dismemberment
Back then, 15-year-old Tim Masters lived in a trailer with his father, Clyde, at the top of a hill overlooking the field where the body was discovered. While canvassing the area that February morning of the murder, Fort Collins detective Linda Wheeler-Holloway learned from Clyde Masters that he had seen his son veer toward the spot where the body was found while walking to the school bus that morning. A short time later that same day, a detective pulled Masters out of typing class at Fort Collins High School. Yes, the teenager said, he’d seen the body, but he’d initially thought it was a Resusci Anne doll, like the ones used at school to teach CPR. He figured that classmates had planted it there to play a joke on him, and he didn’t wonder whether it was a body until he was on the bus.
The next day, while Masters was in school, two detectives showed up at the trailer and asked Clyde Masters if they could look around. One of the cops was a rising star: bright, personable, tireless, and as observant and detailed as the department had ever seen. This officer, detective Jim Broderick, filled out a consent-to-search form, which Clyde Masters willingly signed. The detective entered the teen’s bedroom and saw the knives. All these many years later, Broderick can still remember each of those knives. They were lined up side by side, some naked and gleaming, a few in sheaths, some right on top of Tim’s dresser. Gravity knives. Switchblades. Butterfly knives. A Rambo knife. One with a scalpel embedded in the side. A large survival knife, a machete, and a homemade sword were also discovered in the room.
Broderick carried himself with an easy confidence. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall with dark black hair and a mustache, he resembled Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. That morning, he methodically searched the teen’s room. There were numerous notebooks with writings by Tim Masters that, as Broderick wrote in his police report, “dealt with death and dismemberment of body parts and other graphic portrayals of people being killed and narratives [that] describe it.” On the shelf of a bookcase, Broderick found drawings and binders with stories and pictures that graphically depicted grisly death scenes. There was a ninja mask made out of an old black T-shirt, a flashlight with a red lens cap, and gore magazines, including one with a picture of an ear sliced from a body. There was a sketch of an old lady being shot and detailed drawings of skulls, hangings, and the workings of mechanical knives. The detective also found a stash of pornography, and took into evidence Tim’s Bible, which had passages from the Book of Revelation about angels, immorality, and the “wrath of God Almighty” underlined in the teen’s hand. The police also seized a yearbook in which Masters had written “Welcome to Hell” in Olde English lettering across the title page over a picture of his school.
“Virtually everything I looked through that was written by Timothy Masters was about violence, killing, death or suicide,” Broderick wrote in his report. In one story, titled “Reds and Recons,” Masters assumed the identity of a rampaging killer he called “Mace” who worked with a partner, Ice, to fight female gang members in battles of good versus evil. The teen wrote:
My name is Mace. I live in a time where there are no adults anymore. There was some kind of virus that killed them all.
After a few years of kids living peacefully, the chickies started taking over, and, for some reason, imprisoned all the males.
Fifty boys about my age, 11 to 15, kicked some ass and left blood stains from chicks all over the place.
So, when they got to us, 2,000 guns opened fire on the bitches and painted the hills red.
By the way, we called the chicks ‘Reds” because their dress uniforms are red, and they call us ‘Recons,” because we like to use guerilla warfare tactics.
I’m about 5-6 and medium build for my age. I just turned 14 about a month ago. I have blue eyes and blonde-brown hair.
I don’t seem to care about anything anymore, and I’m pretty famous for being violent and cold. People say that I hate the world, and I guess, in a way, I do.
All I know is that if I don’t kill, I will be killed.
A Troubled Teen
A sophomore at Fort Collins High School, the other kids called the 5-foot-10-inch, 115-pound Tim Masters “Toothpick.” He was awkward, introverted, and an outcast, wheat-grass thin with a slim face and a mop of frayed, shoulder-length brown hair. He grew up just outside San Diego. His father, a Vietnam veteran, was stationed there as a chief petty officer with the U.S. Navy. When Tim was in second grade, the family moved to Fort Collins, where his father had relatives and some property. They settled into the trailer while Clyde finished his last few years in the service in California. The transition was tough for Tim. He seemed isolated and withdrawn. In January 1978, one teacher noted that he lacked the ability to stay on task, and the school suggested counseling. Tim told his mother that he hated his new school and missed California. During fifth grade, teachers indicated that although he had above-average intellectual ability, Tim had difficulty completing assignments, and that when he became upset, he would mouth words unintelligibly under his breath and not do his work.
Masters’ dad retired in 1982 and moved to Fort Collins. With the family together, it seemed their lives might stabilize. Then, one evening while Tim was in sixth grade, February 11, 1983, his mother was not feeling well. Clyde drove her to the hospital. She never came home. The autopsy report says that Margaret Masters died of toxic shock syndrome the next day.
The way Clyde Masters ran the trailer, as if it were a naval ship, was difficult on the boy. Tim’s older sister, Serena, had joined the Army, and his father was still grieving the loss of his wife, often taking out his anger by yelling at Tim. It took its toll on the kid. Masters was busted twice: once for shoplifting some toy cars from Target, and once for vandalism. A middle school counselor, Ann Livingston, who worked with Tim to improve his grades, and—in general—improve his self confidence, told investigators that Masters was shy and that he was not doing well in school. “He appeared to miss his mom,” she said.
Outwardly, Masters did not display anger or violence, but often withdrew into his drawing. The pictures were mostly about monsters or war, often grotesque and showing a lot of blood. “He was very interested in the armed forces,” Livingston told police, “and was very enthusiastic whenever his sister came home for visits.”
During his first semester of 10th grade, Masters received everything from As to Fs. He did not appear openly aggressive, but teachers did notice a preoccupation with racism and cruelty, weapons, militarism, and death. And a few weeks before the Hettrick killing, a teacher tried to confiscate an Army manual Tim was reading in class. Furious, he refused to hand it over and stormed out of the classroom.
Peggy’s Last Night
On February 10, 1987, Peggy Hettrick finished her shift in the lingerie department at the Fashion Bar clothing store and clocked out at 9:01 p.m. The 37-year-old did not own a car and walked the few blocks to her apartment, where she realized she was locked out because she had given the key to a friend who was staying with her. The friend had passed out, drunk, and couldn’t be awakened despite Peggy’s banging on the door.
Irritated, Peggy walked back to town and headed to a local bar. She returned to her apartment later that night and was able to rouse her friend, get the key from her, and change clothes before rushing back out at around midnight. Peggy headed to the Prime Minister, a restaurant half a mile from her apartment, where she sat at the bar drinking vodka tonics and smoking Merit cigarettes.
Peggy was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed maybe 110 pounds. She had red hair, pale white skin, and dimples in cheeks that bracketed thin lips and a soft, easy smile. Her blue eyes opened widely beneath slight eyebrows and curled lashes. They were inquisitive and drew anyone speaking to Peggy into her presence.
Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Matt Zoellner, was a local car salesman who liked pretty women, cold beer, and cocaine. He would tell police that he arrived at the Prime Minister at about 12:30 a.m. and bumped into Peggy. Zoellner was waiting for another woman, but, as he would tell police, he offered Peggy a ride back to her apartment. She said OK, but after Zoellner returned from the bathroom, he said, he saw her walking out the door.
The next morning, Peggy’s grandmother arrived at her apartment. The two had planned to go out to breakfast and do some shopping. Peggy was not there. The light was still on in her bedroom.
Shortly after detective Broderick found the knives lined up in Tim’s bedroom, Clyde Masters and an officer picked the sophomore up at school. They brought him to police headquarters. Clyde joked with the officers, agreeably waived his son’s rights to an attorney, and encouraged Tim to tell the police everything he knew. What followed was more than nine hours of charm and chitchat, badgering and bullying, a tag team of at least five detectives playing good cop, bad cop, buddy cop, accusatory cop, mommy cop, and most every flavor of cop in between. Over and over again, the teen maintained that he did not have anything to do with the murder.
The following is compressed dialogue from the interviews that day. Asked why he didn’t report what he saw as soon as he considered it might have been a body, Masters said, “Because I was afraid I would be accused of it.”
“Why would you have been accused of it?” one cop asked.
“Because it happened so close to my house.”
“Why were you afraid that you’d be accused?”
“Watching so much TV.”
“What do you mean?”
“Seeing people on TV shows be sent to jail for something they didn’t do.”
About six hours into the questioning, Broderick entered the interrogation room. “Tim, I’m Jim. Jim Broderick,” he opened the interview. “Man, it’s hot in here, isn’t it? How are you doing?”
“What do you think about all of this?”
“I don’t know,” Tim said, sitting in a stiff-backed metal chair.
“Relax a little bit,” Broderick said.… “Have you had any bad experiences with women?”
“No.… But out in California, I had a girlfriend.”
“Yeah. How’d that go?”
“I moved away from her.”
“Did you ever have, you know, don’t know if this embarrasses you?”
“I was too young then.”
“I was only six…,” Masters said seriously.
“…and she was in love with me but I wasn’t in love with her.”
Laughing, Broderick responded: “Well, that will happen.”
As they continued, Masters repeatedly denied any involvement, but Broderick remained unconvinced. “Are you mad at me? Tell me. You’ve got to express your feelings,” Broderick said.
“…I thought you believed in me.”
“Did I ever tell you that I thought you didn’t do it?”
“No,” Masters said.
During a break Clyde came in to speak with his son alone. The audio recorder was still running.
“I don’t believe this,” Tim told his father.
“Tim, if you did it, buddy, you’re going to have to say something so I can go get some damn help.”
“But I didn’t do it.”
“Huh,” Clyde said, intermittently stern and desperate as he talked to his son.
“But I didn’t do it.”
“If you did it, I’m going to shoot you. ’Cause you know, it’s no game, or nothing else, bud….”
“They’re screwing my whole life, too. For something I didn’t do.”
“You know I’ll try and help you all I can. You know that. And I’ll back you up all I can. You know that, too.”
“They keep on tellin’ me I’m lying.”
“Well, you better be as honest as possible. And that way, by golly, maybe we can get everything straightened out here and settled…. You got just to open up to ’em and let ’em know everything you know.”
After Clyde left, Broderick came back into the room. “OK, Tim,” Broderick said. “I just found something…. And this may be what we’re looking for. See that,” he said, showing Tim a drawing of a body being dragged across a field, bleeding with arrows flying past, that the police had just discovered in Masters’ backpack. “Now, if you’re man enough to do this—and I know you really did plan all of this—be man enough to talk about it.”
“I would if I would’ve done it.”
“No! You DID do it. And you need to start gettin’ that in your mind. OK.…”
Masters tried to explain that he’d made the sketch to show a classmate what might have happened near his trailer.
“Wait a minute,” Broderick said. “Let me finish. Let me finish…. Nobody is this preoccupied unless they did it. You were preoccupied with what happened because you did it.”
“I didn’t…,” Masters said, shaking his head.
“.…You fantasized about this all this time. The fantasy finally came to an end the other night. It wasn’t a fantasy anymore you could think about. You got to do it. You got to be part of it. You got to do it for a change. Instead of reading about it. Instead of drawing about it. And it was very self-fulfilling,” Broderick said. “It was what it was all about…. Are you going to have to do it, again? Do you feel compelled to do it, again?”
“I told you, I didn’t do it!”
One comment Broderick made would resonate years later. “This is not going to end,” he told Masters. “It’s not going to end. It’s not going to end for me.… I know you did do it.”
In February 1988, on the first anniversary of the murder, a team of 16 police officers staked out Tim Masters’ trailer and followed him 24 hours a day for six straight days. The chief of police even approved a strategy that included planting a false story in the local paper saying they were closing in on a suspect and leaving copies of the story where they knew Masters would see it. The police watched Peggy Hettrick’s grave, as well, hoping to catch the teen in odd and incriminating behavior. They didn’t. The cops ran another surveillance on the second anniversary of the killing, and the most unusual activity they observed was Tim skipping school one afternoon to play video games at a pizza place.
There was not enough evidence to arrest Masters for the crime in 1987, or after the surveillance in ’88 and ’89. After graduating high school, he traveled with the Navy and worked on aircraft, learning hydraulic and structural systems and developing proficiency in reading blueprints and testing equipment. Although watched closely by the Naval Intelligence Service, which had been asked by the police to keep an eye on Masters, the only mark on his service record was for driving a car on a base in California without a license, which he had lost earlier for an alcohol-related DUI.
While Masters was in the Navy, the first officer to point the department toward him, Linda Wheeler-Holloway, reopened the Hettrick homicide. In 1992, she discovered new evidence and teamed up with Broderick to write a warrant to arrest Masters for first-degree murder. The cops traveled to Philadelphia, where Masters’ ship was being repaired, to interview him, again. The new evidence was unreleased information about the nipple excision that Masters had told a friend in high school. But during the interview, Masters explained that he had overheard what he’d passed on from a classmate who had been a member of an Explorer Scouts group that helped police search the vacant field. Broderick felt there were still questions Masters hadn’t satisfactorily answered, and Wheeler-Holloway said her colleague still hoped to bring the suspect back to Fort Collins, saying he “would have a confession by the time we get back on the plane.” But once police back in Fort Collins confirmed Tim’s story, Wheeler-Holloway realized that what she had thought was evidence was a circle of gossips. Hal Dean, a third detective on the trip, said that he and Broderick were disappointed the information fell through, and that after a discussion with the district attorney’s office, the three agreed not to execute the warrant. Masters left the Naval Intelligence Service Headquarters, where the interview had occurred, thinking the Hettrick matter was done at last. He walked to his car with the NIS agent in charge of the case. “Put all this bullshit behind you,” the agent told Masters. “It is finally over. Don’t worry about it.”
By 1994, Jim Broderick had a reputation as a meticulous investigator and collegial supervisor who helped reduce street crime and drunken driving. That same year, he was named supervisor of the Crimes Against Persons Unit at the Fort Collins Police Department. Two years earlier, on the trip to Philadelphia, Broderick was not able to control the Hettrick investigation. Now, it was under his command. One of the detectives on his squad, Troy Krenning, remembers the night during the summer of 1995 that Broderick announced he was ready to reopen the investigation. They had traveled to Grand Junction to make an arrest in another murder. While at a hotel bar following that arrest, beer and martinis flowing, Broderick announced they would go back to Fort Collins and start working on the remaining unsolved murder in town—the Hettrick homicide.
The case was eight years old, but many in the department felt that Broderick still thought Tim Masters was the killer. Krenning says he was one of the only members of the force who openly disagreed with his boss. A kid from Loveland who joined the department as a member of the cadet program when he was 18 years old, Krenning was a few years younger than Broderick. Married to a schoolteacher with two young kids, he thought the surveillance —in which he had participated in 1988—had been absurd. (“What did they expect? Tim to go down and start dancing on Peggy Hettrick’s grave?” Krenning said.) He says he didn’t think it was possible that a skinny 15-year-old could have pulled off such a macabre and carefully executed murder. Krenning says he suggested to Broderick that they take a fresh look at the case, but that Broderick believed the evidence pointed at Masters and that they could make the case stick if they put it all together.
Krenning now recalls feeling isolated and at odds with the way his supervisors were thinking. “It seemed they all thought Masters did it. At times, I would think I was missing something, that I was crazy!” he says. Krenning would eventually leave Fort Collins to become a police chief in a small town in Kansas. Wheeler-Holloway, who had been rotated out of investigations back on patrol as part of a departmental plan Broderick had helped to develop, was discouraged by her new detail. Generally frustrated with the department, she later quit and joined the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
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.
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.
Pleas for Help
Inside the razor wire–wrapped, double-chain-link fencing that surrounded Buena Vista, Tim Masters kept a journal on a yellow legal pad. In it, he noted he had “heard that a body does not mentally mature while in prison.” So, each June, on his birthday, Masters wrote that he would think, “I turned 27, again,” and he would hope the lies that put him behind bars someday would be revealed. “Every day in prison is still August 10th, 1998, because on that day my world’s clock stopped,” he wrote about the day he was arrested in California. “[I hope that] I’ll finally have my ‘August 11th, 1998.’ ”
Masters’ lawyers filed appeals on his behalf. But in February 2001, the Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the jury trial conviction. Then, 20 months later, the Colorado Supreme Court reached a 4-3 decision that also upheld the conviction. In dissent, one justice, referring to the testimony from Meloy and Masters’ drawings, wrote: “The sheer volume of inadmissible evidence so overwhelmed the admissible evidence that the defendant could not have a fair trial…. There exists a substantial risk that the defendant was convicted not for what he did, but for who he was.”
It was a nice sentiment, Masters thought, but he was still in prison, where he started to pore over law books spread out on the bunk in his cell. He wrote to the Colorado Innocence Project, but the project, as Masters puts it, said his case was “not appropriate” for them to take on. His sister, Serena, sent 150 letters to law schools seeking assistance, but all they received in response was about 75 letters saying there was nothing the schools could do. Although dubious that it would result in anything positive, on May 5, 2003, Masters filed a petition for Post-Conviction Relief on a number of grounds, including ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct.
Nine days later, Greeley, Colorado, lawyer Maria Liu was appointed by the state to serve as his postconviction attorney. The daughter of immigrants, Maria Liu grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi. Her father, who was half Spanish and half Chinese, was a crop duster, and her mother was from Colombia, where Liu was born. During the summers, they moved around, going wherever her father had work dusting the cotton that spread across the deep, hot South.
Liu’s path west took her through Southern Illinois University for law school and to a job as a public defender in Colorado. She settled in Greeley. Bright-eyed, dynamic, and idealistic, the young lawyer with shoulder-length curly brown hair brought an open mind and high energy to the town. She put out a shingle around the corner from the courthouse, concentrated on postconviction remedies and representing indigent clients, and was elected president of the Weld County Bar Association. The walls of Liu’s office are decorated with a random patchwork of plaques and photographs, including one of her dog, an Irish wolfhound. She didn’t have a framed diploma until her father—who thought any self-respecting attorney should have a framed diploma on the wall—tucked one into a dime-store frame and sent it to her. It hangs next to the photograph of the wolfhound.
As she read into Masters’ conviction, paging through police reports and court transcripts, she quickly came to the conclusion that he deserved a new trial. Then, after watching the police interviews with the 15-year-old suspect, she began to believe he might actually be innocent. When she first met Masters, her belief in his innocence solidified. Liu noticed a difference between him and other clients, some of whom tried to convince her that they’d turned a new leaf in prison and found God. Tim told her the opposite. He had believed in God before he was convicted, but since being locked up, he told her he’d lost his faith.
Realizing that if this case was going to go forward she would need a partner with more trial experience, Liu called a former colleague. David Wymore had been chief deputy in the Colorado State Public Defenders office, and now he was retired and committed to spending more time with his young son. “David, this guy’s innocent,” Liu said when she called Wymore about a year after she got the case. “We’ve got to get him out.”
Wymore had his share of scars from battling with the Larimer County law enforcement community. But he never could resist a good cause. Or, even more, a good fight.
“I’m in,” he said.
On the Inside
Tim Masters’ cell in the South Unit at Buena Vista was 6 feet by 10 feet with solid doors, a steel bunk with a cardboard-thin mattress, and a consolidated steel toilet-sink combo with a steel mirror on the wall. His towels scratched and the toilet paper was rationed at one roll per week. The lack of personal space or privacy conspired to feed his frustration, and the noise was unrelenting.
If I were a free man, I’d go straight to bed right now, but I have to stand up for count at 21:15,” Masters wrote in his journal. “After count, I still won’t be able to sleep because we have a few ‘screamers’ in the unit. Screamers are inmates who yell and scream out their doors until late at night for no freaking reason. If one of those effin’ screamers were on fire, I would roast marshmallows on the flames…. Prison is the only place where you can be completely surrounded by people yet feel utterly alone.
He worked in the saddle shop, making saddle skirts and doing machine maintenance at $5.25 an hour for a boss who gave him inconsistent hours and called him “Crotch Carver” behind his back for what he’d been convicted of doing to Peggy Hettrick. He negotiated the fault lines between the prison’s ethnic and racial gangs. The Crips and Bloods were black, and the Southsiders and Northsiders were the Hispanic gangs. Masters pegged some members of the white gangs to be “solid white guys.” He avoided trouble by working out in the gym, where he bench-pressed 315 pounds, and doing his own time.
He tried to look the other way when prisoners fought over tables in the chow hall, and he got over the fact that each year the prison seemed to take one good meal—a dish he liked, such as pork fritters, pepperoni pizza, fried chicken, lasagna, hot ham and Swiss, or real Rueben sandwiches—off the menu. That all bugged him, but he got more incensed when someone would question his credibility, like the time a jailer had seen a rerun of the A&E Cold Case episode on the Hettrick case and called Masters into his office. As Masters recorded the moment in his journal:
He said, ‘I’ve been informed that your crime was just shown on TV…’ and I corrected him by saying, ‘The crime I was accused of….’
He stopped me short by snapping, ‘The crime you were charged, tried and convicted of committing.’
This man did not give a damn that I am serving life for a crime I didn’t commit. As far as he’s concerned, a jury convicted me so I am guilty.
He grew despondent when he would make friends—Mike R., Tommy M., Ted S., Caleb H., Brian M., Jeremy G., Art C.—only to see them released out of his life, dead to him forever as he remained rotting inside. The holidays were the most difficult times. Thanksgiving and Christmas would come and he would think of the new nephews, nieces, and cousins he’d never met. He refrained from calling his sister on holidays because he didn’t want to depress her with his circumstances.
He noticed that at night, his dreams—which had once been a way to escape—had become too informed by reality. He used to be able to dream of returning to the home he once had in Ridgecrest, California, but as the years wore on, even in his dreams that house was no longer a part of his life. He would dream that he was driving by, under a reddish brown desert sky, only to find someone else owned it. But the most terrifying moments came when he could sense the erosion of his own humanity.
So many years of this have made me feel dead inside. I’m not completely emotionless, but after all this time I no longer empathize well with the problems people have on the streets.
In 1999, after I had been convicted and while I was enduring processing at the Denver Reception [and] Diagnostic Center, the Columbine tragedy happened. I felt so bad for all those people. The students murdered, their families, friends, and etc. When 9/11 happened, I was sickened. That terrorists murdered thousands of American civilians and took down our twin towers made me sad and angry.
But after all these years of living with my depression over what has been done to me…after all these years of having no joy in my life…. A tragedy just happened at Virginia Tech University. A lone gunman murdered 32–33 people, and wounded around 20 others. But this time, after all I’ve been through, there is no room left for me to feel anything about that. And that pisses me off, because the real Tim Masters, the person I was before FCPD fucked me over would have felt a great deal of empathy for all the victims and their families.
I’ve tried very hard not to let all this injustice change me. On the one hand I’ve succeeded, because I will never be a criminal and I’ll never be the person Broderick claimed I was, but I’ve also become very distant and unemotional. I guess you can’t endure this kind of bullshit without it changing you in some way.
One spring, over a period of days, Masters watched a goose in the prison’s north yard. The bird moved about the yard sitting on her eggs. The eggs were not hatching and apparently the goose refused to give up, and it gradually became weaker and more desperate. Masters knew the eggs would never hatch, for the guards had spread poison in the yard that had killed whatever promise of new life was inside.
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.
On April 5, 2006, according to real estate records, Jim Broderick took out a loan on his 5,449-square-foot home built on 35 acres on the edge of Fort Collins. On the same day, Masters put in a request to be transferred to a 40-square-foot cell. The new cell would be a third smaller than his current one, but with anticipated prison overcrowding, it would be less likely to be doubled up.
As Masters’ world became more and more suffocating, Broderick’s life skyrocketed on a trajectory of fatherhood, professional success, and community respect. Broderick had a knack, former colleagues said, for always being in the room with top brass and, in an unassuming way, making sure they knew of his accomplishments. He deftly represented the image of a growing Fort Collins: smart, fit, likeable, and successful in a matter-of-fact and nonthreatening way. By 2009, he had headed some of the department’s top units, including Crimes Against Persons, a countywide Drug Task Force, and Investigations. He was named to lead the Professional Standards Division, and his salary pushed close to $100,000 a year. The department held an annual fitness event, during which the officers could earn time off by excelling in events including running, sit-ups, and bench press. Broderick set records that still stand and earned the nickname Superman.
“The bosses thought he walked on water, and there were cops who would follow him to the top of Horsetooth Dam to find Al Capone’s body,” said Krenning, who had refused to follow Broderick into his pursuit of Masters. “A lot of people in this department and in this town jumped on the Jim Broderick bandwagon.”
The former high-school middle-distance runner ran regularly with a group of cops and investigators at lunchtime. They would head out from the old police headquarters on Laporte Avenue west along the banks of the Poudre River. They ran about five miles, talking about everything and nothing, said colleague Tom McLellan, who recalls Broderick chatting about fishing and fixing up junkers, camping trips and getting old. Generally, the conversation was not personal. Broderick, especially, was very private. “He was very family-oriented,” McLellan said. “He spent a lot of time with his sons.”
Back in his 40-square-foot cell, thoughts of Jim Broderick held dual meaning for Tim Masters. On the one hand, they inspired him to hate, while on the other, they motivated him to survive. In his journal, he wrote:
Jim Broderick is my archenemy, my nemesis—the man who destroyed my life for a murder I didn’t commit. At first, I thought that Broderick knew I was innocent, but arrested me because I was the easiest conviction. That was before I read his police reports and began to understand his mental state. He was convinced that I’d done it from the very first day and never changed his mind. The only reasons I care whether I live or die is that people out there care about me, and I’ve got to live long enough to have these lies told by Broderick set straight, and to make the Fort Collins Police Department do their job and put the real killer of Peggy Hettrick behind bars.
The idea that detective Wheeler-Holloway shared with Masters’ attorney, Liu, grew out of a conference the cop had attended. Wheeler-Holloway had met a couple of forensic scientists from the Netherlands who had pioneered a new way to capture epithelial cells for DNA testing and analysis. Rather than swabbing the clothes, Selma and Richard Eikelenboom used an adhesive material to collect the cells. If any still existed on Hettrick’s clothing, the Eikelenbooms believed they could find them.
Winning the release of the clothes, which were still in evidence, so they could be taken to Holland for testing was not easy. All the bureaucratic wagons in Larimer County circled, and battling the entrenched law enforcement community—what Liu called “the Monarchy”—was not simple. But the attorneys remained resilient, and eventually the judge agreed to allow Barie Goetz to bring Hettrick’s clothing to the Netherlands. The momentum around Masters’ case began to shift. In spring 2007, after losing the battle to keep Hettrick’s clothing from being tested by the defense, the Larimer County district attorney’s office withdrew from hearings on whether Masters should receive a new trial, and the Masters case gained attention from reporters who questioned the validity of the evidence that put Masters in prison.
A reporter from the Denver Post, Miles Moffeit, wrote the first big story, headlined “Sketchy evidence raises doubt,” in July 2007, and continued to cover the case. Moffeit recalls that during an interview with Broderick, the detective paused and tears welled up in his eyes as the discussion turned to faith. He became reflective. “I’ve seen some things in my career that are really hard for me to explain other than some higher power looked down and moved something in the right direction,” Broderick told the reporter. The detective mentioned a case in which Broderick’s team discovered the body of a 20-year-old woman that had been difficult to find. That college student’s body had been buried beneath piles of dirt in Poudre Canyon, in a wooded area about 23 miles northwest of Fort Collins. “We could have easily not found it. You just wonder in times like that, you take a right turn instead of a left turn, and there you are. I mean, some people would say that’s good police work, but I think, I do believe, there’s some guidance there.” Moffeit did not report that part of the interview, noting it never fit into the stories he was writing about the Masters case, but it stuck with him. If Broderick believed in such external guidance, perhaps the sketches, writings, and Bible passages were more than evidence; perhaps they were not so much clues as they were signs. Broderick said recently that is not the case, only that, “In police work and life, there are some very fortunate things, and you wonder if there is some intervention.”
Press coverage started to filter its way into the conversation inside Buena Vista, and Masters, while still guarded, became increasingly hopeful he might win his release. “Two white guys in the shower mentioned my case to me,” Masters wrote. “They are Solid White Guys—and for so long had seemed to be my enemies. So, I was surprised to hear them say, ‘I hope you get out of here, that’s bullshit what they did to you.’ ”
In Europe, the Eikelenbooms had captured enough DNA to begin testing. Then, one evening, Wymore’s phone rang. The call was from Richard Eikelenboom in Holland.
“It’s Matt Zoellner!” he shouted.
“What?” answered Wymore.
“Oh, yes. It is Matt Zoellner.”
Everyone was shocked. Not only was the DNA not a match for Tim Masters, but it also pointed to Peggy Hettrick’s mercurial boyfriend, the last person known to have seen her alive. DNA found inside the waistband of her panty lines and under the cuffs of her blouse matched Matt Zoellner’s profile. Perhaps there was an innocent explanation for this, but, regardless, nothing in the DNA pointed to Masters.
I spoke to Maria last night. She had good news from overseas,” Masters wrote in his journal. “Everyone is so optimistic right now that it’s contagious. It took more than 9 years, but everyone is finally seeing that Broderick’s stories about me are bullshit. Everyone is seeing that I didn’t kill Peggy Hettrick.”
On January 22, 2008, swayed by the DNA results, the new special prosecutor moved to finally vacate Masters’ conviction. Wearing a black suit, white button-down shirt, and yellow-print tie, Masters walked out of the Larimer County courtroom unchained. He had lost an uncle and an aunt while in prison, but his sister and the rest of his family were there. Many remembered prosecutor Jolene Blair’s celebratory gesture in 1999. As Masters walked past, this time his family cheered, pumping their fists eagerly in the air.
They celebrated at the Elks Club that evening, where Tim grabbed two pieces of grocery-store fried chicken and inhaled them without even using a napkin. At the party, his cousins ran around with cellphones with cameras and talked about MySpace pages. Masters realized that he’d spent the entire rise of the digital era behind bars.
He spent that night at an aunt’s house in Fort Collins. Although pumped beyond any rush he’d ever experienced, he eventually fell asleep on a real mattress. Tim opened his eyes in the morning to beige walls—not the white prison walls—and to windows and sunlight, and he walked to a separate, private bathroom where he brushed his teeth in front of a glass mirror over a porcelain sink. It had been 3,452 days since his arrest in California on August 10, 1998. Now, the day he wrote in his journal that he hoped for had arrived; it was finally his August 11.
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.
Scene of the Crime
On a sweltering midsummer afternoon, Tim Masters pulls his metallic blue 2011 Chevy Silverado into a space behind the Olive Garden on College Avenue in Fort Collins. He points out where the Prime Minister used to be, a few paces away, and then drives across the street to where his trailer once sat above a vacant field.
The land his father owned has been developed into an office park, and the field is now home to the Landings Bay townhomes. From the curb, Masters waves along the 103-foot trail where Peggy Hettrick’s body was carried or dragged. It is now landscaped with colorful flowers. As Masters walks his old neighborhood, he reflects on the days he swam and fished in Warren Lake and built a tree house in a thicket nearby.
He still wonders why none of the checks and balances in the process protected him. There is no easy answer. But all three ranking division commanders in 1998 had links to the case—and a respect, almost reverence, for Jim Broderick—that may have clouded their perspectives. Head of investigations Bud Reed was married to detective Marsha Reed; head of patrol Sherri Wagner was one of the cops who interrogated the young Tim Masters and accused him of the murder the day after the homicide; and head of information services Deryle O’Dell had written the memo recommending the fake story in the Coloradoan in the failed sting. None of the bosses stopped the case from moving forward, and the chief of police relied on the judgment of his division commanders. Nor did any of the prosecutors, who didn’t listen to their own concerns with the case, perhaps because they feared standing in the way of a conviction.
Since being released, Masters, whose email address includes the word “innocence,” created a PowerPoint presentation about his case, which he delivers to criminal justice and psychology classes at Colorado universities. In Masters’ talk, he urges students to recognize the power they will have over people’s lives and the need to exercise it with integrity. That message will be part of a book he has written for Berkeley Publishing Group.
He walks past the bus stop where he was headed the morning he saw what he thought was a mannequin in the field, and thoughts of his father watching from the trailer cross his mind. His dad died of a heart attack while visiting Masters when he was in the Navy. Going through his things, Tim found a letter his dad had written in a tablet notebook years earlier. The letter was to no one in particular. Clyde Masters just wanted anyone who read it to know that his son had nothing to do with the murder of Peggy Hettrick. Masters holds no anger toward his father for waiving Miranda and allowing Broderick to search the trailer.
“Dad was career Navy. He was a law-abiding citizen. A by-the-book kind of guy. He thought the police and law enforcement were there to protect us,” Tim says. “Unfortunately, in this case, they were not. But the way Dad handled it, he was doing what he thought was right. We didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with police. Now, everyone in my family knows you don’t talk to them without a lawyer.”
A few days earlier, the attorney general’s office—which is investigating the once-again open Hettrick homicide—announced that Attorney General John Suthers planned to release a statement saying that although they didn’t yet have enough evidence to charge anyone else with the murder, “The time has come for law enforcement to fully exonerate Tim Masters.” Masters got a call that morning from a cousin who worked in the Fort Collins city government, saying that the mayor and a few other local officials wanted to meet with him. He agreed to go to his cousin’s office.
“When I got there, the mayor, the DA, and the police chief had already arrived. One by one,” Masters says, “they took their turn to say they were sorry.” He breaks into a slight smile. “It was a good day. I’d been waiting a long time for someone in authority to say that.” He walks to his truck for the drive home to Greeley, to the security—and relative freedom—of the old farmhouse, his bachelor-pad fortress.