No wonder the public is often confused and dissatisfied when it comes to the criminal justice system.
Recently, two former prosecutors (who are now judges) Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, received public censures in their roles in the conviction of Tim Masters.Masters was convicted in 1999 in the murder of Peggy Hettrick but was released in January when DNA evidence pointed to another suspect. The censures were handed down by the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation, which oversees sitting judges because they also are lawyers.
Testimony during the appeals process in the Masters case also revealed that evidence was mishandled; prosecutors didn’t turn over or identify all evidence, and in some cases, the materials were lost.
Gilmore’s “conduct directly impaired the proper operation of the criminal justice system in the trial of Timothy Masters for murder,” according to the stipulation agreement. The stipulation agreement signed by Blair contained similar language; both documents noted Gilmore and Blair “failed to act with reasonable diligence” in carrying out their duties as prosecutors. But the documents also noted that neither Blair nor Gilmore acted with “dishonest or selfish motive.”
What the public has not and will not get is a public vetting about the prosecutors’ actions, and that’s where the system fails. By signing the agreements, Gilmore and Blair avoid possible public hearing on the issue. The OAR could have suspended them, placed them on probation or disbarred them, but we will never understand why a censure was the chosen approach.
This isn’t about exacting a pound of flesh; it’s about knowing how a conclusion can be reached that the conduct of two prosecutors directly impaired justice without a dishonest or selfish motive being involved. It’s about understanding how two prosecutors contributed to a situation in which a man was sent to prison without the jury fully informed.
State lawmakers should respond to this case by revisiting the process of reprimanding those who impair “the proper operation of the criminal justice system.”