Wrongfully convicted Colorado man to be paid $4.1 million

Officials in Colorado decided Tuesday to pay $4.1 million to a man they successfully prosecuted for the 1987 slaying and mutilation of a Fort Collins woman -- a conviction eventually overturned by DNA evidence.

Timothy Lee Masters, 38, spent nearly a decade in prison before the new evidence pointed to another suspect and led a judge to toss out his conviction in 2008.

Last year, Masters filed a federal lawsuit against prosecutors and police, claiming they conspired to frame him and withheld evidence that could have cleared him.

“I would gladly pay $10 million, or whatever it took, if I could get those years of my life back. Unfortunately, that can never happen,” Masters said in a statement released Tuesday by his attorney, David Lane.

Lane said the settlement would afford Masters -- who lives in northern Colorado and has struggled to make a living selling items on EBay -- the financial security to move forward.

“He was released without a penny to his name. No $100 and a suit of clothes for Tim. He couldn’t pay a parking ticket up to a couple of months ago,” Lane said.

Larimer County officials said they approved the settlement to protect the county’s financial interests, over the objections of prosecutors who tried the case and maintain they “did nothing wrong and that Mr. Masters received a fair trial,” according to a statement.

The district attorney has never exonerated Masters in Peggy Lee Hettrick’s death, which now is being investigated by the Colorado attorney general.

Masters was 15 when the body of Hettrick, 37, was found Feb. 11, 1987, in a field near his home.

He quickly became a suspect but was not arrested until 1998, when authorities decided to prosecute on the strength of circumstantial evidence and the analysis of a forensic psychologist.

His lawsuit continues against the city of Fort Collins, whose police officers investigated the case.

Correll writes for The Times.