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Seek justice, not convictions (Part III)

By Scott Tibbs, August 5, 2010

A $10,000,000 settlement to a man who spent a decade in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a murder he didn't commit is another sad example of why we need to reform our criminal justice system. From CNN:

(Tim) Masters was 15 when Fort Collins police began investigating him in the 1987 murder of Hettrick, whose mutilated body was found in a field near the home Masters shared with his father.

Twelve years later, he was convicted, largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an expert witness who said he fit the profile of a sexual predator. Masters was cleared by DNA evidence and released from prison in 2008. The crime remains unsolved.

It's been almost two years since the Colorado Supreme Court censured Judges Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore, then-prosecutors in Masters' 1999 trial, for their handling of the case. No Fort Collins police officers have been disciplined, and a 2008 inquiry into Broderick's actions found no criminal wrongdoing.

A new investigation by Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, appointed as special prosecutor in the 2008 inquiry, has now yielded an eight-count felony perjury indictment against Broderick.

The Masters case is quadruple injustice. First, to Masters, who lost a decade of his life because of a criminal justice establishment more interested in "winning" than truly seeking justice. Ten million dollars is a pitifully low sum for losing a decade of his life. Second, to the family of Peggy Hettrick, who will never see her murderer brought to justice. Third, to the murderer himself, who will never be caught and punished for this demonic crime. Finally, to the taxpayers of Colorado, who were forced to watch as their criminal justice system was gang-raped.

The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters is a reminder that we must restrain government even as it seeks to protect us from criminals. We have been waging a "war on crime" for decades, and elected prosecutors around the nation point to their convictions as a reason for voters to re-elect them. But a prosecutor's job is not to prosecute. A prosecutor's job is to seek justice. Sometimes, justice is served by abandoning efforts to convict someone.

A necessary reform is strict oversight of law enforcement, to prevent tragedies like this one from taking place. Another is making all law enforcement officials vulnerable to prosecution and harsh criminal penalties for abusing their authority. One possible reform is to make prosecutors appointed, not elected, with a strict set of standard. Above all else, the American people must remember that a government that ignores the rule of law is far more dangerous to our liberty than any terrorist or foreign aggressor.

Previous articles:

  ♣  Strip away anti-justice immunity -- November 19, 2009

  ♣  Seek justice, not convictions (Part II) -- May 21, 2009

  ♣  Seek justice, not convictions -- February 13, 2009

  ♣  Justice, not convictions, must always be the goal -- November 8, 2007