Timothy Masters Case: Wrongly Jailed for Murder, Man Gets $4.1 Million for 10 Lost Years

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS/AP) After wrongly locking up Timothy Masters for nearly 10 years, Larimer County has agreed to pay him $4.1 million to settle a federal lawsuit.

Photo: Tim Masters wrongly imprisoned for nearly 10 years.

Masters was convicted in 1999 for the murder and sexual mutilation of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins, Colo. In 2008, a judge overturned the conviction after DNA evidence pointed towards another suspect. Masters, a former aircraft mechanic, was the first person freed from prison in Colorado because of DNA evidence.

In 1987, at age 15, Masters came under suspicion after he saw a body in a field but didn't report it to police. He was arrested 10 years later due to a psychological analysis of his drawings that investigators said pointed to Masters as the killer.

Photo: Tim Masters, age 15, in 1987.

Masters, an aspiring horror fiction writer at the time, said he thought Hettrick's body was a mannequin placed there as a cruel joke around the anniversary of his mother's death.

Former prosecutors Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore, now judges in Larimer County, objected to the settlement, saying, through their attorneys, that they did nothing wrong and would have won the case in court.

Larimer County commissioners said they believe Masters received a fair trial. After $400,000 in lawyer's fees, the county said the risk of losing in court wasn't worth it. The vote Tuesday was unanimous.

"I'd rather see a guilty man go free than see an innocent man convicted," Commissioner Tom Donnelly said during the meeting, afterward adding he was sorry for Masters' conviction. "I'm also sorry for the (judges) because they didn't have a chance to defend themselves."

Prosecutors 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.

Masters' lawsuit claims detectives and prosecutors maliciously targeted him and destroyed or withheld evidence that could have cleared him. Claims against police and Fort Collins are pending.

"Tim has been basically destitute since they released him from prison without an apology," said his attorney David Lane. "This gives him a good chance to start putting this behind him."

He has been trying to earn a living by bidding on abandoned storage sheds and selling the contents on eBay. He has also enrolled in aircraft mechanic school.

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