You may think the maxim “innocent until proven guilty” would mean we only need evidence to prove an accused committed a crime. We shouldn’t have to prove he didn’t. Unfortunately, for an accused to get a fair trial, that isn’t true. Take the case of Tim Masters.
In February 1987, Peggy Hettrick was found dead in a field in Fort Collins, Colorado. She had been stabbed and sexually mutilated. Twelve years later, Tim Masters was convicted for the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The evidence pointing to his guilt? Not much. There was no direct physical evidence, only a few violent doodles Masters had drawn as a fifteen year-old, after he admittedly walked past and saw Hettrick’s body on his way to school. That should not have been enough to convict him, and it probably wouldn’t have been when weighed against the evidence pointing to his innocence:
* Comments from a plastic surgeon to a Fort Collins police detective, Marsha Reed, that mutilation to Hettrick’s body — the removal of one nipple and much of her genitals — appeared surgical in nature and that even he would have had difficulty making those cuts.
* An FBI profiler’s conclusion that Masters’ violent sketches did not reveal a motive to kill Hettrick.
* A week-long surveillance effort of Masters in 1988 after police lied to him, telling him they were getting close to making an arrest in the case, that showed no behavior out of the ordinary.
Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that prosecutors had — or should have had — a far more likely suspect, a surgeon who lived right across the street from where Hettrick’s body was found, Dr. Richard Hammond. Did the prosecutors not know about Hammond? On the contrary, it seems they not only knew of him, but they knew him personally. Evidence has surfaced that the original prosecutors in the case had business, social, and religious connections with Hammond.
Hammond committed suicide in 1995 when he was charged with sex-exploitation for using a hidden camera to photograph the breasts and genitals of female visitors to his home. Yet, Hammond was never investigated in connection with Hettrick’s murder.
So there was little or no evidence pointing to Masters’ guilt, and plenty of evidence pointing to his innocence. So why was Masters convicted? Because the latter was never presented at his initial trial, nor at either of his two appeals. It appears that police and prosecutors purposely hid the evidence they didn’t like. Now, finally, this evidence has come to light and next week hearings will resume that may lead to a new trial.