Police, Prosecutors: Costs Are High When Misconduct Contributes to Wrongful Conviction

According to a report in the Coloradoan (here), on Saturday Lt. Jim Broderick, 56, resigned from the Fort Collins (Colorado) Police Services where he had worked for 33 years. His career had a dramatic reversal when he was indicted on charges of felony perjury in June 2010 in connection with the grand jury indictment and trial of Tim Masters. Masters, who was fifteen at the time of the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick, was convicted and spent ten years in prison before DNA testing of crime scene evidence prompted the vacation of his murder conviction. Broderick had been the investigator in the case.

The National Registry of Exonerations’ report on the case (here) lists the cause of this wrongful conviction as perjury or false accusation and official misconduct. Prosecutors allegedly failed to turn over evidence to the defense and Broderick allegedly lied to the grand jury to help secure the indictment against Masters.

The Coloradoan report indicated that the initial perjury charges against Broderick were dropped because the statutes of limitation had expired.  However, he was indicted again on nine counts of first-degree perjury on July 27, 2012.

When three of the perjury charges were dismissed by a district court, prosecutors appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. As reported by Fox31 Denver / KDVR.com (here), in January the Weld County district attorney announced that, without these charges, he did not believe he could gain a conviction, and he dropped the case against Broderick.

The botched case has been a costly one for the police department, the county, the city, and taxpayers.

The strength of the evidence of official misconduct is an important factor in reaching settlements. Larimer County agreed to pay $4.1 million in February of 2010 and the city of Fort Collins agreed to pay $5.9 million in June 2010 to settle Masters’ civil rights lawsuit after his wrongful conviction.

Broderick has been on paid administrative leave since the 2010 indictment. The Coloradoan reported that he has been paid about $255,000 during this period and that the city also paid his legal fees to the cap of $250,000.

When the case against Broderick was dropped by the district attorney, Fort Collins police launched an internal investigation, however Broderick’s resignation brings an end to this investigation.

As in many cases of wrongful conviction, Tim Masters was convicted on circumstantial evidence. He was questioned by police after it was revealed that he had seen Hettrick’s body near his home.  He thought it was a mannequin placed as a prank because his own mother had died four years earlier. Hettrick’s body had been mutilated, and police discovered macabre drawings by Masters in his home.  But the lack of tangible evidence delayed his arrest until August of 1998, more than eleven years after the crime.

The biological evidence at the crime scene did not match Masters and pointed to another perpetrator, but the murderer has not been identified. The Colorado Attorney General is overseeing the ongoing investigation of Hettrick’s murder.

The human and financial costs of other crimes that may have been committed by the true perpetrator are yet unknown, as is the cost of this blow to public confidence. The Fort Collins police department is committed to maintaining the public’s trust after a difficult miscarriage. As Kevin Duggan reported in the Coloradoan, Police Chief John Hutto said, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get past it, but this (Broderick’s resignation) is one more step.”

6 responses to “Police, Prosecutors: Costs Are High When Misconduct Contributes to Wrongful Conviction

  1. Too bad that ‘dishonest police officer’s and ‘prosecutor’s’ can’t be required to take the places of the ‘innocent people that they put into jail’s/prison’s just to CLOSE THEIR CASE’S!!

    I can’t help to remember something that i personally wrote when i myself was going through a dilema of my own. It went like this…..

    There are two kinds of Juste. There is man made justice which is full of fault’s and mistakes then there is God’s Justice which is inevidable. Meaning ALL will have to answer to their higher power someday whether it be the bad attorney,the crooked police officer, the crooked prosecutor……Whatever the case may be…God is watching you and will judge you accordingly when you meet him!!

    As ALWAY’S… I love the little story’s that you all bring to me. 🙂 🙂

  2. Same old story – the costs are never high for the police, prosecutors, and municipalities. The victims and the taxpayers bear all of the burdens and the system continues on as usual. Wash rinse repeat.

  3. Pingback: Why Wrongful Convictions? - Pilant's Business Ethics

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  5. On 11-21-2013 I went to the Municiple Court House in downtown Dallas,Texas not for myself, but as support for a very dear friend of mine. My friend had been attacked on his job on 9-11-2013 by a total stranger,but this person also worked at the very same job as he!
    The attack lead him to the emergency room (3) stitches above

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