Justice can be expensive -- but the cost of injustice is often even higher. Case in point: the horrifically botched investigation into the 1987 murder of Fort Collins' Peggy Hettrick. Thus far, the case has cost authorities at least $10.5 million -- the latest $500,000 as a result of a failed prosecution aimed at Detective James Broderick, who allegedly helped railroad an innocent man.
The anatomy of this ongoing disaster began on February 11, 1987, when the body of Hettrick, 37, was discovered in a field. As noted on the Wikipedia page devoted to this grisly act, Hettrick's body had been sexually mutilated at the left breast and vagina.
Before long, suspicion fell upon Tim Masters, a fifteen year old who'd seen the corpse on his way to school but thought it was a mannequin. After searching his home with his father's okay, investigators discovered a knife collection, violent artwork (he was a horror-movie aficionado) and a suitcase filled with pornography -- enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that he might have been Hettrick's killer. Yet it took prosecutors a dozen years, until 1999, to finally convict him of the crime.
Nine years later, Masters was finally set free, thanks to DNA evidence that exonerated him -- and he promptly filed multiple suits for wrongful conviction. In 2010, he received a $5.9 million settlement from the City of Fort Collins and another $4.1 million from the Larimer County judicial district.
Also in 2010, Detective James Broderick was indicted for perjury in the Hettrick matter -- a development that put him at the top of a top five police blunders list featured on True Crime Report, a website owned, like Westword, by Voice Media.
Here's how writer Chris Parker described the allegations against Broderick:
Under oath, Broderick denied having any contact with the case since 1987, conveniently forgetting the failed surveillance operation. Nor did he reveal any of the available contrary information (such as the surveillance failure) to the "expert." Broderick withheld, and later destroyed other evidence that may have connected the crime to a sexual deviant who also lived near the crime scene, and who committed suicide when arrested on other charges. (The suicide case had been a doctor, which would have gone a long way in explaining the surgical precision of the sexual mutilation of Hettrick's body.)
Perhaps it's better late than never, but the whole case just makes you feel dirty. It's hard to find any redeeming message, like be careful who you move in next-to because you might be blamed, though perhaps there's something in the fact that an innocent man was eventually freed. It only took nine years. That's practically fifteen minutes in bureaucratic time.
This description makes the conviction of Broderick seem like a slam dunk, but it proved anything but.
The publicly funded legal team assigned to defend Broderick moved to dismiss all nine of the counts leveled against him by the Weld County District Attorney's Office, headed by DA Ken Buck. In December 2011, as recapped in a document on view below, a judge ultimately decided to toss three of them. Buck appealed and got one of the counts reinstated by an appeals court the following July, then argued for the other two to be put back in place via a filing to the Colorado Supreme Court. Last month, however, the Supremes denied Buck's petition.
Days later, Buck filed a motion to dismiss the entire case against Broderick, explaining in a statement:
"The two counts that were dismissed by the trial court were critical to this case. Without the ability to pursue those charges, we simply do not believe the case could be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. As prosecutors, we have an ethical obligation to only pursue charges that have a reasonable likelihood of resulting in a conviction."
How much did various agencies spend on the bungled pursuit of Broderick? A new report by 7News does the math for us, and that's a lucky thing, because there are a lot of digits involved. Broderick is now owed back pay of $234,131.36 for the two and a half years he was on leave. In addition, the amount borne by the City of Fort Collins for his defense is calculated at $256,975. The sum is just a whisper under half a million clams.
Add that to the $10 million paid to Masters and the total becomes even more eye-popping. And that doesn't include the money thrown away by pursuing and ultimately convicting an innocent man for a crime he didn't commit over a period of a decade-plus.
Galling, certainly -- but what's even more dispiriting is the fact that Hettrick's killer remains at large and unpunished more than a quarter-century after her life was cruelly ended.
Look below to see the 7News report, followed by the aforementioned motion to dismiss charges against Broderick.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "James Broderick, detective accused in Tim Masters case, no. 1 in Top 5 Police Blunders."