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New committee works to keep Blair and Gilmore on the bench

10:24 PM, Sep 29, 2010   |    comments
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Saying they have to speak up because the judges can't do it for themselves, Haynes wants to fight what he calls "specious and spurious" claims made by the opposition.

"Far from being called guilty or conspirators or intentionally trying to ruin the life of a young man," Haynes said. "None of those charges that [The Committee for Judicial Justice] is trying to make are true."

Blair and Gilmore, who face a Nov. 2 retention vote, were the prosecutors when Tim Masters was convicted in 1999 for the 1987 slaying of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. Masters was 15 when Hettrick died. His conviction was vacated and he was released from prison in 2008 when his attorneys found DNA evidence that identified another man.

Fort Collins and Larimer County officials paid Masters $10 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit earlier this year, but neither the city nor county have admitted wrongdoing.

Judges censured

In September 2008, Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation formally censured Blair and Gilmore. The office concluded - and Blair and Gilmore admitted - that they "directly impaired the proper operation of the criminal justice system" in Masters' trial.

The reprimands focused on the fact that information and reports developed by police during their investigation were not turned over to Masters' defense attorneys, as required.

"Information that the prosecution did not gather from the police, despite indications that it was available, included opinions of experts who had examined the crime scene evidence, and police reports concerning a 1988 'enhanced surveillance' of Masters that did not produce the results expected by the police, but instead tended to undermine the theory of Masters' guilt," the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation said in announcing the reprimands.

Both Gilmore and Blair were appointed as judges within two years of Masters' conviction.

It was the first time in at least 30 years that a sitting judge has been rebuked for conduct stemming from their days as a lawyer.

This was Gilmore's second censure by the OAR, following a 1994 case in which he failed to disclose to a defense attorney that a witness in a drug case also was under investigation for drug violations.

Haynes said the judges should be evaluated based only on their merits while serving on the bench.

"They have been given outstanding marks and have been unanimously recommended for retention. What happened beforehand being as minor as it is and with that out in the public knowledge, I for one do not believe that is enough to support what the opposition committee is trying to do," Haynes said.

Case against Masters flawed

Troy Krenning, a former Fort Collins police detective, said he tried to convince others in charge not to proceed with the investigation against Masters.

"My belief is that Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair acted inappropriately and secured a conviction of a truly innocent man. They've refused to acknowledge that. They've refused to apologize to Tim and his family. They've refused to apologize to Peggy Hettrick's family," he said. "Not a single person has offered a simple 'I'm sorry.'"

To believe Masters could be guilty of the crime, Krenning said, one has to believe he had opportunity, motive and ability. The opportunity would be to spot Hettrick walking down the street alone after 1 a.m., he said.

"But more important is motive," Krenning said. "They developed this theory that Masters was outraged because his mother died without saying goodbye and that he was psychologically damaged. That's hogwash."

The third piece is ability.

"They're saying that a 15-year-old who didn't weigh more than a sack of potatoes was able to drag a woman 100 feet, remove a breast and genitalia all without leaving any evidence at the scene, no evidence at home and get rid of the murder weapon," Krenning said. "People all along the way had a chance to put a stop to this and they sat on their hands or looked the other way. The emperor had no clothes and this was the case they ended up with."

Krenning dismissed the argument that Blair and Gilmore should remain on the bench because they have served well in that capacity.

"Maybe they have been good judges, maybe they haven't," he said. "Maybe they wouldn't be judges if they hadn't tried and convicted Tim Masters for this horrific crime.

"If they got there by fraud, it doesn't matter how good of judges they have been. They shouldn't have been there in the first place."

Krenning, who serves on the board of The Committee for Judicial Justice, said he welcomed the news of the new committee.

"Everybody who has a position on the issue should come forward and speak. Decisions need to be made by an informed electorate."

Krenning said The Committee for Judicial Justice has raised about $10,000 and so far has spent much of that on yard signs that urge voters to cast ballots against retaining Gilmore and Blair. He said the committee is still working on other marketing plans. The committee has received donations from Masters, his attorneys and Krenning.

Knezovich, a CPA and Coloradoan columnist, said the Committee to Retain Larimer Judges has raised about $1,200 and plans to have $3,000 by Oct. 7. News about the committee's formation was first published in the Sept. 27 issue of Law Week Colorado.

The committee plans to spend its money on endorsement ads that will be published in Larimer and Jackson county newspapers promoting the retention of all Larimer County judges, but that will mention Blair and Gilmore by name.

Written by Sara Hansen of the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

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