Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tim Masters Case: Colorado

In Fort Collins, Colorado, a passing bicyclist discovered the sexually mutilated body of Peggy Hettrick. The woman’s body was near the home of 15-year-old Tim Masters. Since February 12, 1987 – the day after the killing – Masters insisted that he did not commit the crime. When police found gruesome sketches that had been drawn by Masters, they focused the next several years of their investigative efforts upon the teenager. In 1999, twelve years after Hettrick’s death, these efforts finally saw Masters convicted of the homicide and sentenced to life in prison. This was despite the fact that no physical evidence was ever found that tied Masters to the crime. I'm surprised that the authorities did not simply execute the 15-year-old boy on the spot-the minute they discovered the ghastly sketches. Who needs physical evidence anyway?

In 1995, eight years after the homicide and four years prior to the Masters conviction, Fort Collins police investigated Dr. Richard Hammond, a 44-year-old eye surgeon. In Dr. Hammond’s home, they found sophisticated cameras and an enormous collection of pornography. At the doctor’s home, as well as at his medical office, police found countless homemade videos. These videos included precisely detailed shots zooming into the vaginal areas of females using the downstairs toilet in the Hammond home as well as the patient toilet at his medical office. The doctor was using carefully controlled, cleverly concealed cameras. His unsuspecting victims ranged from girls in their early teens to women in their forties. Other hidden cameras captured women's breasts as they stood at the restroom mirrors. Police also discovered a storage unit Dr. Hammond was renting that contained thousands of pornographic materials and containers filled with sex toys and jewelry. He also had a secret bank account and a secret apartment. Dr. Hammond was arrested on sexual-exploitation charges. Days later, the man committed suicide in a Denver hotel room using an IV drip filled with cyanide.

Although Dr. Hammond was often known to disappear for hours and he frequently left town on mysterious trips, his wife had no knowledge of her husband’s secret identity. His friends, stunned by the news of the doctor’s arrest, described him as extremely polite and professional. His partner and his colleagues, equally floored by the news, had always admired Hammond’s specialized expertise with a scalpel.

Detective Dave Mickelson of the Fort Collins Police Department was particularly alarmed by two facts. First, the Hammond home was located just 100 yards east of where Peggy Hettrick's body had been found eight years earlier. Second, the woman’s body had been skillfully carved up by her killer, with special focus on the intricate vaginal parts and the nipples of her breasts. These facts, taken together with Dr. Hammond’s obsession with female genitalia and breasts, and his surgical expertise, prompted Detective Mickelson to approach his superiors.

Despite pleas from the detective for a thorough investigation of Hammond as a suspect in the Hettrick homicide, his concerns were promptly dismissed. All of the evidence that was seized during the investigation was destroyed within six months after Dr. Hammond's arrest and subsequent suicide. Four years later, Tim Masters was tried and sent to prison for murder.

In a January 2008 news conference, Colorado special prosecutor, Don Quick, announced that a defense-commissioned DNA test pointed not to Tim Masters, but to an unknown male. The validity of the DNA test was supported by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Quick filed a motion citing four instances in which police and prosecutors should have provided evidence to Masters' original defense team. When Quick requested for the conviction to be vacated, Judge Joseph Weatherby promptly agreed. Tim Masters, at the age of 36, was released from prison.

Based on the clear instances of misconduct, Fort Collins District Attorney Larry Abrahamson has vowed to review all "contested convictions" in which advances in DNA testing may prove useful. Abrahamson also said that he has met with the Fort Collins police chief and his investigators to discuss the importance of information flow between law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, and counsel for the defense. 


Michael J. Spence, Ph.D.


February 22, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment