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Masters: Cop's big ego stole half my life

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Tim Masters talks with CNN on his first full day of freedom
  • NEW: Masters says he's angry, especially at lead police officer
  • Judge ordered Masters released, tossed murder conviction Tuesday
  • New DNA evidence indicates someone else killed, mutilated Peggy Hettrick in 1987
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By Eliott C. McLaughlin
CNN
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GREELEY, Colorado (CNN) -- Tim Masters often drank heavily before he was imprisoned for murder in 1999, but he said he's sworn off the stuff in an interview Wednesday, his first full day of freedom in nearly a decade.

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On his first full day of freedom, Tim Masters shows attorney Maria Liu a Hot Rod magazine.

"Just because I don't look angry doesn't mean I don't have a whole lot of anger inside," Masters said. "I don't want to get drunk. People get drunk, they have no self control. I don't want to get mad or do anything stupid or say something stupid. I'd rather just stay sober."

The anger he fears unleashing is aimed squarely at the Fort Collins Police Department, which doggedly pursued him for almost 12 years before charging him with the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick -- a crime he has always insisted he didn't commit.

Masters, 36, was released Tuesday from prison after new DNA evidence pointed to someone else. He will find out next month if he will stand trial again, but a prosecutor said Monday that charges against Masters could be dismissed. Video Watch Masters talk about his freedom »

Speaking with CNN about 24 hours after his release, Masters said he is relieved to be out of prison, but he can't shake the feeling this saga might not be over.

He also can't shake his anger at one investigator in particular.

"My opinion is that Jim Broderick, the guy in charge of it, has a very big ego and would not allow anything or anyone to convince him that he was wrong," Masters said.

"He made up his mind in the beginning, from day one when he walked into my bedroom and saw my horror drawings and war stories, that I was guilty. Nothing would change his mind."

Broderick did not return a call Wednesday to his office. His answering machine said he would not be checking messages until the end of the month.

Michael Goodbee, one of the special prosecutors handling the Masters hearings, said in court that Broderick was out of town on a family emergency. Broderick told CNN in November, before the DNA evidence was confirmed, that he still believed Masters was the killer.Photo The key players »

Masters was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence -- a collection of gory sketches and narratives, a few knives and a forensic psychologist's testimony that Masters' stories and artwork indicated he fantasized about sexual homicides.

Case history

In 1987, a bicyclist found the maimed body of Peggy Hettrick, 37, near the home of Tim Masters.

Masters, then 15, quickly became the top suspect in the slaying, but it was not until 1999 that police and prosecutors saw Masters convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In hearings that began in September, Masters' new defense team alleged police and prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation and trial.

On Tuesday, a judge threw out the conviction and freed Masters after DNA evidence pointed to someone else.

He was also the first person to find Hettrick's body. He didn't immediately report it, he said, because he thought it was a mannequin and someone was playing a prank.

"It's just unbelievable because here's all these stories and drawings that have no nexus with the crime. There's no one being stabbed in the back. There's no one being sexually mutilated," he said. "The only thing they had in common with this crime is there was violence."

Lots of kids in high school sketch violent scenes and scribe violent stories, Masters said. Go to any high school, he said, and you'll likely find similar artwork and writings.

"They won their case by assassinating my character," he said.

Masters said he's been angry for years. Though his father Clyde, who died while Masters was in prison, taught him to never show his emotions, his fellow inmates were aware of his bitterness, he said.

"My best friend who sat across from me at the chow hall, he used to actually sit there and say, 'Damn, I've got to look across at this surly face every day? Look at your face. You look mad all the time.' "

His frustration began to wane when the media started reporting on his case about six months ago. The letters he received in prison and support from fellow inmates helped, he said, but the anger is "still going to be there. There's no way to get around that. It's still inside."

Masters said he can't thank his family enough for standing by him. And though he spoke with reverence of his father, there was an undertone of resentment in his words. It was his father, he said, who initially told him to cooperate with police, a decision that ultimately would be his undoing.

His father allowed police to search their trailer. He also allowed Masters to be interrogated for hours without an attorney. Police would use the evidence and interrogation to convict Masters in 1999.

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"We'll cooperate with them and give them anything they want and then they'll see that you didn't have anything to do with this and they'll move on," Masters recalled his father telling him in 1987. "It turns out that by cooperating with them it just encouraged them, because I was the easiest suspect to go after."

Clyde Masters knew his son hadn't committed the crime, but he thought police were there to help, Masters said. His father was in the Navy for 22 years and felt you should obey authority, he added.

"Well, you know what? You shouldn't always submit to authority. Our country wouldn't exist if everyone submitted to authority," he said. "It's just a shame Dad didn't know how the system was."

In a news conference after his release, Masters said he wanted only to see his family. He was whisked away from the courthouse to the local Elks Lodge, which his aunts and uncles had rented. At the party, he met some of his younger relatives for the first time.

"Everybody didn't get to come up there and visit me over the years, and the cousins, the younger ones, have had kids of their own and I don't know any of them, so I'm trying to learn everyone's name and not succeeding," Masters said.

His first meal was two pieces of grocery store fried chicken -- which he ate simultaneously -- and a glass of lemonade. The chicken was "fantastic," he said.

"I didn't even eat anything else with it. I just had two pieces of chicken there and people are shaking my hand and leaving like, 'Ugh, I got grease on my hand,' " he said with a chuckle. "Sorry."

During visits with family members, he learned how much the world had changed since he was locked up. Everyone had high-tech cell phones with cameras. His cousins and nephews were showing him YouTube and their MySpace pages.

Despite the changes all around him, the changes within him seem negligible, he said.

"I don't feel a whole lot different other than a lot of emotional baggage," he said. "Other people would be able to tell you better than I would how much I've changed."

His freedom still seems like a dream at times, he said. As for trying to recover the years he feels were wrongly taken from him -- the years in high school and in the Navy when he was pegged as a murderer or the decade he spent in a prison cell -- he understands they're gone forever.

"You can't get any time back," he said, quipping, "My youth and my hair, gone."

Though there are strong indications that Masters could be fully exonerated in February, he is not getting his hopes too high -- not after the events of the past two decades.

"For me, it's not over until it's over. They haven't dismissed any charges. I'm out on bond, so I'm not completely free yet," he said.

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Masters said he and his legal team are prepared in the event of a new trial.

"Whatever happens, happens. We're ready." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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