Freedom: Day One

Freedom: Day One

by Pat Hartman

Originally published at

January 24, 2008

By now, there's probably not a person in America who doesn't know the basic outline of the case:

1987: Peggy Hettrick is murdered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Suspicion immediately fastens on 15-year old Tim Masters. But no physical clues, eyewitness testimony, or anything else commonly recognized as "evidence" link him to the crime.

1998: More than ten years later, after much expert-shopping, after being turned down by more reputable experts, thanks to the collusion of a hired-gun "expert", and still with not a scrap of anything resembling actual evidence, Detective Jim Broderick succeeds in getting Masters convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

2008: Thanks to a whole lot of conscientious people, including superlative lawyers and top-notch investigators and scientists, Masters is freed.

It's Tuesday the 22nd of January, 2008. You go into a store or office, and the person behind the counter, maybe even someone you never met before, says, "Today's the day Tim Masters gets out." It's a great day for America (and this is not said with the irony of a late night talk show host) because the system worked like its supposed to - which gives hope to hundreds, maybe thousands, of wrongfully convicted people. As one friend said, "You witnessed one of the great moments in courtroom history." Yes, it's a thing you don't see every day. What are the chances, after being thumbs-downed by both the appeals court and the state Supreme Court, of somebody writing for himself such an excellent piece of work as the 35c motion Tim put together? Out of all the similar motions filed by all the desperate inmates, this one succeeded in being heard.

At one point, as Judge Weatherby arranged his courtroom, he asked if any more family members were waiting out in the corridor, and a woman called out, "We're all family." That was the feeling. Except for a stray prosecutor or two, we all thought Tim looked a lot better in his blazer and tie than the way we'd been used to seeing him, in the orange jumpsuit, with chains and goofy shoes. And later on, the best party I ever went to - a birthday party extraordinaire, a second birth for a person who's been through the kind of ordeal that would drive a lot of us around the bend. Certainly, no sensation can compare to regaining freedom after nine years' incarceration, but the rush of seeing a loved one set free has got to run a close second. There's nothing like hanging out with a great big clan of ecstatically happy people to brighten up a day. For me as a citizen, and as somebody who's taken a keen interest in this case, it's an overwhelming experience.

Consequently, this piece started out with the intention of being all warm and fuzzy, stuffed with quotes like this one from Tim's uncle Owen Lamb, who said, "We always believed he was innocent - it's such a relief. He's sure welcome at our house, we hope he's watching the Super Bowl with us. I'm just glad he's going to be watching it at all."

So - what's my problem? Well……

We've got a district attorney here, name of Larry Abrahamson, who's now spinning this thing like a top, with the excuse that it's all the fault of inadequate DNA technology at the time of the murder. At this moment, we don't need to review the state of DNA technology in 1987 when Peggy was killed, carved, and dragged around like a leftover turkey carcass. At this moment we don't need to reflect upon the progress of DNA testing in the late 1990s when Tim was arrested and tried. What we now need to remember are the later events, when Mr. Abrahamson spent many months actively blocking the possibility of any DNA testing at all. He then, without permission, against a court order, allowed Peggy's clothes to be subjected to an old-school harvesting method which could very well have destroyed the existence of any remaining evidence on those pathetic scraps of fabric. He released the clothing and let this potentially destructive testing be done - not to put too fine a point on it - illegally. Knowing that his actions might ruin Tim's last chance for exoneration.

Now, there seems to be some soft-pedaling in process. Some equivocation, some backing and filling. The historical revisionism is already setting in, as Abrahamson and his crew assure us that it's all just been a little misunderstanding. Voices are telling us that the only reason Tim was convicted was that appropriate DNA technology wasn't available when Peggy was killed or, even more ridiculous, at the time when Tim went to trial. This is a big, big, big lie. A whopper. It is, in fact, the kind of industrial-grade bullshit that put Herr Goebbels on the map. If the people of Colorado let him get away with it, we're as guilty as he is and deserve everything we get from him and his kind.

The zeal with which Tim Masters was pursued, back at the start, suggests more than just the usual propensity to lock a warm body into a cell so that "justice" can be seen to be done. It suggests a real need to fill that "Peggy Hettrick's killer" vacancy to protect someone else. For a while there, the shocking saga of Richard Hammond had us going - the twisto doctor, etc. But putting somebody else away just to protect the social acquaintance of an assistant DA and his wife, that's kind of a weak rationale even for these guys. And now we are told that the murderer appears not to have been Hammond.

Another, better suspect was being shielded by putting Tim Masters in his place. Who and why? Is this a paranoid fantasy? Is it any more paranoid than the fantasy a 16-year-old might have harbored, that he was being watched for a solid week? Because back in 1988, on the first anniversary of the murder, somebody did follow him for a week. A whole bunch of somebodies, staked out in a construction trailer near his house and following him everywhere, hoping he'd do something indicative of guilt. Is it any more paranoid than believing that a cop planted a copy of Tim's mother's obituary where he'd be sure to find it? Because a cop did do that. Is it any more paranoid than believing that one obsessed lawman would devote almost a decade to bringing about his downfall?

Try watching, first, video from the interrogation at the Fort Collins police station when
Tim was 15; then the interview on Denver's Channel 9 last week, the day after the recommendation was made that his conviction be vacated. Viewing those two pieces of film back-to-back is eerie. More than twenty years have elapsed between these two documentations of a man's life, and for more than nine of those years he's been incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. It makes you think.

I see Tim Masters as a martyr whose experience and struggle have benefited us all. It's not an ordeal he would have wished for himself, or anybody would have wished for him. He didn't volunteer for the job, he was drafted. Still, he's done us all a great service, because what he went through has succeeded in bringing to light a whole bunch of stuff in the legal system that's been festering and when it finally oozes out, it ain't gonna be pretty at all. Tim Masters should be awarded all the honor due to a POW back from Southeast Asia or the Middle East. Why not? He was deprived of every material possession, as well as the capacity to control his own time and energies. Captured by his own government, he was kept out of circulation and in misery for more than nine years, almost his entire life as a young adult.

Here in Fort Collins, there's another man who has a high media profile, because he was kidnapped in Beirut in 1985 and held hostage for a long time. Dig it: Tom Sutherland and his family sued the Iran government's frozen assets, and came away with $353 million. Well, Sutherland was imprisoned for 2354 days. Tim Masters did 3452 days, and, as if that weren't enough, had his reputation trashed. What's that worth? How much should Tim Masters get, in recompense for his lost years? To what bureaucracy can he now apply for a refund?

I've heard of a freed, wrongly accused man who actually was compensated to the tune of $100 a day for each day of imprisonment. One commentator has even suggested that the state should pay restitution of a million dollars for each year sacrificed to the "justice" machine. I think the time of an exonerated ex-prisoner is worth at least as much as that of the quack who got him locked up, the alleged expert whose big lies put Tim Masters away. I like the figure of $300 an hour, the same rate as was charged by the witch doctor that calls himself a forensic psychologist. How much would that come to? A lot of people's first impulse is to say hell yeah, give it to him. Only problem is, the state doesn't have any money. Or rather, it does - it has the money it takes from the taxpayers. Sorry, but that's the only way there is for a state to get any money. Except for what it gets from the federal government, and where does Washington get it from? Sadly, from the identical source: the taxpayers.

Why should you and I pay for the sins of Lieutenant James Broderick and his band of co-conspirators? Why is the whole monumental expense of this case coming out of our pockets, when we aren't guilty of anything except allowing these jackals to have their way? Are police officers required to carry malpractice insurance, like doctors? If not, why not? Can we at least garnish their wages? And what's the deal with putting bad cops on administrative leave, anyway? For such wickedness, nobody should get a paid vacation. Keep him on the job, preferably on some duty where he can't damage any more citizens, and turn over his paycheck directly to his victims. Him and all the others who construct these Kafkaesque situations.

Why shouldn't Broderick have to sell his house and car and any other assets, in order to pay off this debt? One of the more bizarre outgrowths of the War on Some Drugs is the doctrine that property can be guilty of a crime. In other words, if you transport drugs in a boat, your boat is guilty, and so the government gets to seize it. So, why not let the asset forfeiture concept serve in other ways as well? For instance, Detective Broderick did a great deal of thinking and plotting about how to destroy Tim Masters, while in his house. Therefore, his house is guilty and should be seized to help pay whatever monetary award eventually goes to Masters. If any of Broderick's teeth contain gold, let's have them too.

Now, this may seem like a side issue, but it's not. There's a consumer angle here that needs looking into. Doctor Reid Meloy, the forensic psychologist who testified at such absurd length, was paid a great deal of money - $70,000 is the number I heard. I'm thinking my next art project should be a Photoshop collage of Reid Meloy in leopard-skin hot pants, because he's such a ho. And not even a good one. Many call girls, in fact, possess more integrity. And, get this - in recent months, while some police officers risked censure by taking Tim's side, and while many people spent copious amounts of time at the hearings - including Tim's original defense lawyers, who each testified for many days - while these people jeopardized their livelihoods and relationships to participate in freeing Tim, what did Reid Meloy do? Here's what he did. Rather than provide copies of his reports to the defense team, rather even than sell them the materials at the cost of photocopying, Dr. Meloy charged $1000 for those documents. That's right - the sleazy son of a bitch could not resist wringing one last increment of profit from the situation.

No-one suggests that we should take back the money because some people think Dr. Meloy is a "scam artist with a long history of fraudulent testimony" or "the most ignorant blowhard I have ever seen." It's because he testified at such bounteous and fantastical length about the character of Tim Masters without ever having met or interviewed the subject of his blather, the person about whom he was pontificating. Because he lied in court, which in some jurisdictions is considered perjury. Because he didn't even do the work. Jim Broderick did the work, and told Meloy what to say. He wrote the script. Dr. Meloy was the ventriloquist's dummy who delivered the lines. We merely propose that Dr. Meloy should cheerfully refund to the taxpayers of Colorado his entire fee, plus interest. And that extra thousand to the defense attorneys.

Justice has not been done. One phase of a mighty sizeable injustice has been brought to a halt, but that's not quite the same thing. The person who killed Peggy has been walking the earth for 20 years with impunity and with blood on his hands - hanging out at his favorite pub; hollering for his favorite football team; having a life; possibly even, God forbid, reproducing. Smugly satisfied in the knowledge that he got away with murder, and even more stoked by the certainty that another man was paying for it.

So Tim Masters is finally out of prison. A lot of us are not prepared to say, "Well, that was nice," and go back to whatever we were doing before. Because there are still a couple of judges, a police officer, a forensic psychologist, and a few other co-conspirators whose day of reckoning needs to be put on the calendar, not in pencil, but in ink. also first published:

Free Tim Masters Because

An Open Letter to Larry Abrahamson

The Meloy Massacre

Is It Mark Fuhrman Time?

The Hartman Report on the Special Prosecutor's Report