The battle may not be over, but at least it's a good start.
Sometime today in a Fort Collins courtroom, Tim Masters expects to shed the words convicted killer from the description that often runs before his name.
His unusual release from custody after nearly a decade in prison appeared inevitable Monday. But the question of what happens next is complicated.
Although a judge is expected to toss out Masters' 1999 murder conviction in the death of Peggy Hettrick, it wasn't at all clear Monday whether Larimer County prosecutors would formally dismiss the case, removing a cloud that has hung over Masters since he became a suspect nearly 21 years ago.
Then there is the question of Hettrick's brutal killing and where authorities go now to look for justice for the 37-year-old woman who was stabbed in the back and sexually mutilated on Feb. 11, 1987.
Although Masters, then a 15- year-old high school student, was a prime suspect from the first hours of the investigation, he wasn't arrested until 1998. A jury convicted him in a case that included no physical evidence - blood, hair, fibers or DNA - linking Masters to the killing.
After Masters lost two appeals, it appeared he was likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.
But a determined team of attorneys, former police investigators and crime scene experts went to work on his behalf.
In court hearings over the past year, they raised serious questions about documents that were never turned over by prosecutors to the lawyers who defended Masters at his trial. At the same time, they turned to DNA analysis of Hettrick's clothes.
Then, on Friday, a stunning announcement: The Colorado Bureau of Investigation had verified tests conducted by experts in Holland that found skin-cell DNA on Hettrick's blouse and the waistband of her panties that matched the genetic fingerprint of a former boyfriend.As a result, Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, the special prosecutor in the case, announced he would file a motion to overturn the conviction and recommend that Masters be released