FORT COLLINS - A federal judge has ruled that Timothy Masters can proceed with portions of his civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors who presented the murder case against him.
The judge, Lewis T. Babcock, opened his ruling with a quote from the American Bar Association Canons of Professional Ethics noting prosecutors have a duty to "see that justice is done," rather than to just seek convictions.
A jury convicted Masters in 1999 for the 1988 murder of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. Masters was 15 when Hettrick was killed. He spent nearly 10 years in prison appealing his conviction, and was freed in 2008 by an outside judge who ruled that new DNA evidence pointed toward another suspect.
After he was freed, Masters sued the police and prosecutors who built the case against him. He argued they engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to arrest, convict and keep him locked up despite evidence pointing toward other suspects.
Babcock has already permitted Masters' suit against Fort Collins police to proceed.
In his ruling issued Monday morning, Babcock dismissed several claims against the prosecutors. But he permitted others to stand in what Masters' attorney called a "smashing" victory.
The two prosecutors who presented the original case against Masters, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, are now Larimer District Court judges.
Both argued to Babcock that they cannot be sued for their official actions, based on a law granting prosecutors absolute immunity when acting as prosecutors. Babcock in his ruling noted that they do not enjoy such strong protection when working in a pre-prosecution "investigatory" phase.
Babcock's Monday ruling generally indicates Masters can go forward with his claims based on the acts allegedly committed by Blair and Gilmore before an arrest warrant was issued.
Masters' suit argues the two conspired with police to "shape" or "manufacture" witness testimony by giving only selected pieces of evidence to experts who helped draft the arrest warrant. "Whatever title Mr. Gilmore chooses, his alleged actions are devoid of objective reasonableness. In any event, the limited authority cited by Mr. Gilmore cannot render decades of jurisprudence recognizing the unconstitutionality of the fabrication and suppression of evidence by law enforcement officers unclear," Babcock wrote. "Mr. Masters' allegations regarding Mr. Gilmore, taken as true, "shocks the conscience" of this Court and, therefore, support a claim for violation of his substantive due process rights."
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Monday, October 05, 2009