The most famous wrongful conviction case in Colorado involves Timothy Masters. Masters was a 15-year-old boy in 1987, who lived with his dad in Fort Collins near the spot where, on February 11th, the body of a woman named Peggy Hetrick was found. Hetrick had been sexually molested and murdered. The police questioned Masters in connection with the case, but neither he nor anyone else was charged.
Masters went on to graduate from high school and join the Navy. In 1992, investigators contacted and questioned him again but, again, no charges were filed. Investigators kept the case open and in 1998, after learning about research into “sexual homicides,” charges including first-degree murder were brought against Masters.
Masters maintained his innocence throughout his trial, but was convicted, and his convictions were affirmed on appeal. Masters contacted the Colorado Innocence Project, but his case was referred to the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel (ADC), since he was eligible for a lawyer at state expense. The ADC appointed Maria Liu and David Wymore to get involved in the case and they, along with investigators and other interested parties, began post-conviction proceedings.
The post-conviction lawyers uncovered evidence that the police had not provided to the original defense team all of the information that should have been provided, that certain alternate suspects had not been properly investigated, that one or more of the prosecution’s expert witnesses had been given inaccurate or incomplete information, that local prosecutors may have been involved in some of this improper behavior and other problems with the original prosecution. A special prosecutor was appointed and when a new method of DNA testing revealed that someone other than Masters had been in contact with the victim in a fashion consistent with that of her murderer, the special prosecutor conceded that Masters’ conviction should be vacated.
Masters was released from prison on January 22, 2008. On January 25th, the charges against him were dismissed. The case remains unsolved. On February 16, 2010, Masters received a settlement of $4.1 million from Larimer County to settle his suit against the County and the two prosecutors who prosecuted him at trial. Master’s civil suit against various other authorities – including the City of Fort Collins - is still pending.
A timeline of the entire case, with links to the contemporaneous articles, was created by the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
A CNN summary of the case was written shortly after Mr. Masters was released from prison.
On May 29, 2009, Tim Kennedy walked out of jail after spending 14 years behind bars for what he maintains was a wrongful conviction in the 1991 execution-style shooting death of a Colorado Springs couple. A jury convicted Kennedy in 1997 on charges that he killed 15-year-old runaway Jennifer Carpenter and her boyfriend and legal guardian, Steve Staskiewicz.
Kennedy was sentenced to two life terms in prison and his appeal was denied. When Kennedy contacted the Colorado Innocence Project, his case was referred to the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel, and the ADC appointed John Dicke and Kathleen Carlson to represent him. Hard work by these lawyers and their support team uncovered significant and important new evidence. Kennedy was granted a new trial in April 2009 after Judge Thomas Kane was presented with new evidence, including DNA tests that showed that another man's DNA was on the sponge used as a gun silencer and on the two bodies. Kennedy's DNA was not present in either sample.
El Paso County prosecutors have appealed Judge Kane’s ruling.
The Colorado Springs Gazette was the primary news agency covering the Kennedy case.
The CIP’s efforts on behalf of Clarence Moses-el have not been successful. Convicted of a 1987 rape, Moses-el sought post-conviction relief through the use of new DNA testing techniques. His post-conviction lawyer was able to obtain a court order that the Denver Police Department preserve biological material from the rape, but that material was subsequently destroyed by the department. Lawrence “Trip” DeMuth of the law firm of Faegre & Benson was unable to persuade the judge that the destruction of evidence entitled Moses-el to relief, and legislative efforts to give him a new trial have been unsuccessful.
Denver Post columnist Susan Greene addressed this case, and the broader issue of the preservation of potentially exculpatory DNA evidence in a January 3, 2010, article. Her column followed a series of articles in the Post relating to this issue.