Larimer County Agrees To Pay $4.1 Million To Masters

Fort Collins Man Convicted In Woman's Murder; DNA Points To Another Suspect

Larimer County officials have voted to approve a $4.1 million settlement to a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was wrongly imprisoned for nearly 10 years for a woman's slaying that remains unsolved.

Timothy Masters was convicted in 1999 in the murder of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins, but a judge overturned the conviction in 2008 after DNA evidence pointed toward another suspect.

Masters' lawsuit claimed detectives and prosecutors maliciously targeted him and destroyed or withheld evidence that could have cleared him.

Larimer County's board of commissioners voted unanimously to approve the settlement. Three million dollars will come from insurance and $1.1 million will come form the county risk management fund. Larimer County has already spent approximately $400,000 out of its reserve fund for defense of the case.

“Hopefully for Mr. Masters’ sake, he can move forward with his life and Larimer County can move forwards as well," said Tom Donnelly, Larimer County commissioner.

“I think all of are frustrated by this situation,” said Steve Johnson, another commissioner. “You have to play with the cards you’re dealt. You don’t get to choose what those cards are. I don’t think any of wanted this card to be dealt with us but we have it and we have to deal with it.”

Commissioners said Tuesday they feared an even larger award for masters if they took the case forward and lost.

“We eliminate, in my opinion, all risk of an adverse higher judgment and the resulting mil levy,” said George Hass, Larimer County attorney.

“Our job is to be responsible with the finances of the taxpayers in Larimer County and not to pass judgment on this case,” said Lew Gaiter III, county commissioner.

Governor Bill Riter appointed Attorney General John Suthers to take over the murder case in january, 2008.

Tuesday, AG spokesman Mike Saccone told TheDenverChannell that while Masters retains the presumption of innocence, he theoretically could be tried again for Hettrick's murder.

Masters' lawyer, David lane told TheDenver Channel that possibility was "highly unlikely."

Not everyone was thrilled with the settlement.

Former prosecutors Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore are not Larimer County District Court Judges and had been named in the lawsuit.

Their lawyers told commissioners both judges were ready to take the case to court, feeling confident.

“She opposes this settlement,” Blair's lawyer Kevin Kuhn said. “We had just begun to fight in this case. And we would’ve prevailed in this case. We would’ve prevailed because we had the protection of the facts in this case and we had the protection of the law in this case.”

Blair and Gilmore were rebuked in 2008 by state attorney regulators. Both acknowledged they failed to ensure defense attorneys received several key pieces of information obtained by police that called the prosecution's case into question.

A release from Larimer County said in part:

"Larimer County’s final decision to settle this case is based upon the best interest of protecting the financial interests of Larimer County citizens. The county strongly believes that the District Attorney’s Office and the individual elected district attorneys and deputies handled the Masters prosecution with the utmost professionalism and competence. The district attorney defendants strongly believe and state that they did nothing wrong and that Mr. Masters received a fair trial. The district attorney defendants were willing to litigate the claims to conclusion and believe the information brought out at trial would have exonerated them. While the county believes it would have ultimately prevailed in the merits of the case, there is always some risk in any litigation. The Board of County Commissioners decided to settle the case in order to protect the financial interests of the county and eliminate any remotely possible risks, such as a judgment in excess of available insurance and available reserves and the need to impose a special mill levy on property owners/taxpayers to pay the excess."

Masters was 15 at the time of Hettrick's slaying in 1987 and came under suspicion when he saw the body in a field but didn't report it to police. Masters, then an aspiring horror fiction writer and doodler of macabre images, said he thought Hettrick's body was a mannequin placed there as a cruel joke around the anniversary of his mother's death.

He was arrested more than 10 years after the slaying. Police obtained an arrest warrant based on psychological analysis of his drawings that investigators said pointed to Masters.

"I would gladly pay 10 million dollars, or whatever it took, if I could get those years of my life back. Unfortunately, that can never happen," Masters said in a prepared statement.

Masters' civil case will continue against the police defendants and the City of Ft. Collins, and no settlement has been reached as to those defendants, including defendant Lt. Broderick, whom Masters alleges was the mastermind behind his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.