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“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
The iconic idea articulated by William Blackstone in 1765 has been a part of the judicial system for centuries. The quote was the idea behind CU alumnus Nicholas Bernard’s documentary “Blackstone’s Equation,” which focuses on the case of Tim Masters, a Fort Collins resident wrongfully convicted for the murder of Peggy Hettrick in 1999. Masters spent nine years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
A showing of the documentary was held on Tuesday night at the Law School in the Wittmeyer Courtroom at 6 p.m. Bernard himself and Dave Wymore, a post-conviction attorney involved in the case, were in attendance and provided a Q&A session after the viewing.
The documentary explained the murder that took place in Fort Collins in 1987. Fifteen-year-old Tim Masters was on his was to school one morning, passed by what he initially believed to be some sort of mannequin or dummy. The “dummy” was in fact the body of Peggy Hettrick, 37, who had been stabbed in the back, sexually mutilated and dragged to the location in the field behind Masters’ house where her body was found.
After his day at school, Masters returned home to find his room had been searched by police who found the knife collection he had at his desk. Masters’ father, formerly of the Navy, took him to the police station, where he was interrogated for hours without an attorney or adult present. The interrogator, officer Ray Martinez, told Bernard that his interrogation style was commonplace in the late ’80s.
“[He said] that was standard procedure,” Bernard said of Martinez. “He was the bad cop.”
During the interrogation, the police brought up Masters’ drawings: sketches in a notebook that Wymore called “scary doodles.” The drawings would go on to be the prosecutors’ only evidence against Masters. The police officer leading the case, Jim Broderick, would go on to convict Masters for the murder of Peggy Hettrick 11 years later based on his violent drawings as a teen.
“Create a story — That’s all you need [to be found guilty], but you need hard evidence to be found innocent,” Wymore said. “They got him because he was scary.”
Masters divulged his disbelief at his incarceration and the terms under which he’d been convicted in an interview in “Blackstone’s Equation.” After a psychological examination by Dr. J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist who never met Masters himself, the drawings were declared character evidence against him.
Masters’ post-conviction attorneys, Wymore and Maria Liu, spoke out against the conviction of Masters as he spent over nine years in the prison at Buena Vista Correctional Facility.
“It had to be manipulative in order to prosecute an innocent person,” Wymore said.
It was later found that the police had withheld evidence that, had it been handed over to Masters lawyers, would have freed him early on, such as footprints at and near the murder site that matched none of Masters or his fathers shoes, unidentified DNA on the victim’s body, and a far more likely suspect living right now the street from the crime scene.
Jurors at the trial later spoke of doubts they’d had, uncertainty about how his drawings could link him to the murder of Hettrick, but how it seemed the only evidence available.
Broderick was later charged with nine counts of perjury in the Masters case for withholding evidence from Masters attorneys and lying in court, all of which were recently dropped.
Masters was released from prison after work by Wymore and Liu in 2008. In 2011, Masters was exonerated by the Grand Jury and received a $10 million settlement from Fort Collins and Lrimer County.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Megan Curry at Megan.firstname.lastname@example.org.