Colo. prosecutor `embarrassed' by botched '87 case

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - A former prosecutor censured for how evidence in a murder case was handled a decade ago said she was "embarrassed" by the failings in a case in which the defendant ultimately was exonerated.

A regulatory arm of the Colorado Supreme Court censured both Terence Gilmore and Jolene Blair in September for failing to ensure defense attorneys had all the evidence gathered by police in the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins.

The prosecutors won the conviction of Tim Masters in 1999 and he served nearly 10 years in prison before advanced DNA testing cleared him, the state's first such exoneration. He was released from prison in January 2008.

The prosecutors have never commented publicly because the Hettrick slaying remains unsolved and both are named in a lawsuit Masters filed over his wrongful conviction. Using public records requests, the Coloradoan newspaper obtained documents and tape recordings of Gilmore's and Blair's interviews with the Office of Attorney Regulation.

The former prosecutors, who are both now judges in the 8th Judicial District, told regulators in separate interviews in May that they didn't make any of the evidence secret. But they also claimed defense attorneys never asked for those records and didn't strongly cross-examine witnesses.

"It's very frustrating to look back on a case you tried 10 years ago and discover that there's all of this information that you never had," said Blair, who was assisting lead prosecutor Gilmore. "Would I have done it differently? Absolutely. I wish I knew now what I didn't know then."

Among the evidence cited as not being turned over are hundreds of pages of notes used by a forensic psychologist to form opinions about violent drawings found in Masters' bedroom. Police and prosecutors used this report to buttress their circumstantial case against Masters.

Masters' attorneys have said they could have used that information to cross-examine the expert.

"All I can tell you is that my energies were focused elsewhere and I am embarrassed that we missed it," Blair said about their failure to turn them over. "But I can tell you that, you know, we didn't make them a secret, and if the defense had just said `Could we have those 238 pages of extractions,' they would have been provided just as soon as possible.

"That doesn't negate our responsibility to provide them, but we just missed it," she told regulators.

Masters' trial attorneys, Nathan Chambers and Eric Fischer, have said other evidence collected by police, which included hair fibers, fingerprints from Hettrick's purse and footprints from the scene, would have been enough to acquit Masters.

Gilmore said there were several instances where Chambers and Fischer failed to aggressively question witnesses. "(N)o real follow up ... no cross examination ... there was nothing," he said.

Gilmore and Blair signed their censure statements, meaning they agree with the regulators' findings.

The Colorado Attorney General's office is leading the investigation into Hettrick's slaying.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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