By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Tim Masters served nearly a decade in prison before his conviction for the 1987 slaying of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins was overturned thanks to DNA evidence. The prosecutors in his 1999 murder trial are now district judges standing for retention in November, and Masters, along with two of his former defense lawyers and a former investigator in the case, are the primary monetary backers of the campaign to oust them.
Masters gave $2,000 on Aug. 23 to the Committee for Judicial Justice, the committee that’s urging voters not to retain Larimer County district judges Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore.
Also on Aug. 23, Troy Krenning, a longtime proponent of Masters’ innocence who was a Fort Collins police detective the time of the investigation of Hettrick’s murder, gave $1,000 to Judicial Justice. Krenning is now an attorney and a member of Judical Justice’s board of directors.
Attorney Maria Liu of Greeley firm Collins Liu & Lyons, who worked for five years to free Masters, gave $2,000 to Judicial Justice on Sept. 7. That same day, Erik Fischer, who was one of Masters’ two defense attorneys at his 1999 trial, gave the campaign $500.
These four contributors combined to give $5,500 out of the total $5,606 that Judicial Justice had raised as of Sept. 15, according to filings with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
“I just don’t think they should be retained based on what I know of the case,” Fischer told Law Week Colorado. He’s not affiliated with Judicial Justice, but made a contribution when the group asked.
“At some level, before all this happened, I would say that I liked both judges,” Fischer said. “But I think that at a different level, having been a former prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney, I think we would be better served by having them continue to serve in a different capacity than as judges.”
On Aug. 3, Blair and Gilmore were unanimously recommended for retention by the Larimer County Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. The commission acknowledged the concerns over the Masters case, including the public censure both judges received from the state Supreme Court’s presiding disciplinary judge for failing to ensure Masters’ defense counsel received potentially helpful evidence, but stated that “the community is well served” by the judges continued presence on the bench.
Judicial Justice formed around the time of Masters’ release from prison in January 2008, but didn’t officially register as a 527 political organization until Aug. 20. The registered agent for the group is Sandy Lemberg.
Liu has been in touch with the group for several years, Lemberg said, and wanted to contribute money for billboards urging a “do not retain” vote for Blair and Gilmore. Judicial Justice has purchased space on at least one billboard north of Fort Collins for the month of October, and may buy more. It has also created a number of yard signs and bumper stickers.
“We are generally very well received,” Lemberg said. “People like what we’re doing. People are behind us.”
Judicial Justice will hold an event next week outside Fort Collins police Det. Jim Broderick’s next court appearance. Broderick, the lead investigator of Hettrick’s murder, was indicted for perjury related to the Masters case.
Masters, who was freed after DNA evidence pointed to other suspects, settled lawsuits with the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County this year for a combined $10 million.
New DNA evidence was recently found in the still-unsolved murder, announced state Attorney General John Suthers this month. It could provide more information on suspects.