With Murder Case Collapsing, Man Convicted in 1999 to Go Free

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Timothy Masters prepared for his first taste of freedom in nearly a decade on Tuesday after a new analysis of DNA evidence contradicted his 1999 murder conviction.

Masters, 35, was expected to be released on a personal recognizance bond later Tuesday. Prosecutors promised to decide quickly whether to try him again, but a legal analyst has said that's unlikely, given the DNA evidence.

Masters was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in the death of Peggy Hettrick, a manager at a woman's clothing store who was found stabbed and sexually mutilated in a field south of Fort Collins.

But a special prosecutor said last week that new tests showed DNA found on Hettrick's clothing was not from Masters but from someone else.

The special prosecutor, Don Quick, said he would ask a judge to set aside Masters' conviction and vacate his prison sentence.

About 50 people packed the small courtroom where the hearing was scheduled Tuesday morning, and more stood in the hall outside. Smiling friends and family waited in a festive atmosphere.

"It's hard to describe," said Master's uncle, John Masters. "It's (like) saying there was a death, and all of a sudden, it turns out he is alive again."

Across town, they had decorated an Elks Lodge with streamers and a "Welcome Home" sign and prepared two cakes.

Hettrick was killed in 1987, but Fort Collins police investigated for more than a decade before arresting Masters. He was 15 at the time she died and lived near the field where her body was found.

Masters' new attorneys have said detectives wrongly focused on Masters instead of other suspects.

During an appeal heard over the past few months in Larimer County District Court, the defense and special prosecutors assigned to the case said crucial information had been withheld from Masters' trial lawyers.

Masters was brought to the Larimer County jail on Monday afternoon from a state prison in Buena Vista. His family prepared a welcome-home party and bought him street clothes.

"We're so thrilled," said Masters' aunt, Betty Schneider. "We just love this kid, and we're glad he's coming home."