Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tim Master's -Sweet Prospect of Freedom

I wonder if there will be any standard of accountability for those who put Tim in prison. Most still work in the system and who knows how much damage they have wrought through the years. Does that make every case they prosecuted suspect?

For almost nine years, Tim Masters' dreams took him outside the walls of the Buena Vista Correctional Complex — to gulp mountain air, to finally embrace his relatives without a restraint around his waist. But each time, when he awoke, "I would see the fire detector and bars and remember," Masters said Saturday.

As he spoke for the first time since a prosecutor vowed to seek to set aside Masters' 1999 conviction for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick, prison officials were boxing up his belongings and members of his legal team were taking his measurements for the clothes he asked to wear when he steps outside the Larimer County courthouse — perhaps as soon as Tuesday: A blazer. A white dress shirt. And blue slacks. "I want to look nice," Masters said.

Tuesday, Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, who was appointed to examine whether Masters received a fair trial in Hettrick's murder, will ask visiting Judge Joe Weatherby to vacate that conviction, citing new DNA test results that Quick said exclude Masters. Masters hopes it will result in a quick release.

He wants to watch the Super Bowl somewhere other than prison. "I'll be rooting for the Chargers," Masters said.

Friday's decision by Quick was one Masters' appeals attorneys have waited five years to hear. In their effort to free him, they have submitted more than 130 court exhibits and written 51 motions to try to prove that Fort Collins police arrested — and a jury convicted — an innocent man. On Saturday, Masters' legal team told him the judge had indicated over the weekend that he would sign the order. Masters would then seek bond and release while the Larimer district attorney decides whether charges should be refiled, a scenario described as unlikely by those close to the DA.

"It still hasn't sunk in," Masters said, now sporting a clean-shaven chin that exposes his laugh lines. ". . . I never had a reason to laugh before." After Quick's announcement Friday, Masters allowed himself to "guardedly" celebrate in a prison visitation room with the attorney who launched his bid for innocence in 2003, Greeley lawyer Maria Liu, and Barie Goetz, the former Colorado Bureau of Investigation lab director who became his crime-scene specialist. He owes his court victory, he said, to their relentless investigation as well as co-counsel David Wymore's leadership.

He said he was overwhelmed by their ability to uncover previously undisclosed evidence that disputed Larimer County prosecutors' central theory that his art renderings as a 15-year-old were a rehearsal to kill Hettrick, a woman he did not know.

No physical evidence tied him to the crime. "For Maria to dig in and investigate every single thing — that's what it takes to get justice." He refused to criticize the prosecutors and police who sent him away, only saying, "I don't have a lot of love for the people who put me here." Liu and Goetz dabbed tissues to their eyes as Masters described clinging to the dream that he would one day simply be able to hug his Aunt Betty, Uncle Mel and 30 other relatives who filled the aisles during his 1999 trial and a string of hearings that stretched throughout most of 2007.

His father, Clyde, died before police filed charges. Several other relatives have passed away since. His Uncle Mel, who often took a front-row seat, was recently hospitalized with a stroke. "That's how I survived," Peggy Hettrick was found in a Fort Collins field, stabbed to death, in 1987. Tim Masters, left, was 15 then. Now 35, he met with his defense team Saturday. he said. "They have been my support system."

Friday's announcement finally set his mind to wondering, he said, about the outside world and whether he was ready for it. A former hydraulic mechanic with the Navy who then worked on small jets, he wonders how airplane parts have changed. He wonders how a former convict can get a job in that world. He wonders what steps he will take to get a new driver's license and how to operate a cellphone. And he wonders whether his tools have rusted in a storage shed. He'll be starting over, with a $100 debit card and bus ticket, the standard-issue accoutrements for freed inmates. He imagined how freedom would feel. "To be able to come and go as I please, see my family when I want to," he mused. "Maybe someday have a family of my own." But, he admitted bluntly, hands folded in his lap, that he has psychological challenges. "I expect I'm going to have a lot of emotional baggage," he said. "Like anger."

In a recent interview, co-counsel Wymore said, "One of my goals is to help make this guy whole again." He said Masters deserves a legal settlement from the state for the life that was taken away from him, as well as his peace of mind. Liu said: "He does not need to spend one more single moment of his life beholden to someone else . . . it's been so serious, so stressful. This is a great relief." The Denver Post