Timothy Masters walked out of court a free man for the first time in nearly a decade Tuesday, his murder conviction wiped out by DNA evidence that points to another suspect.
Masters, 36, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1999, was ordered freed on a personal recognizance bond by Larimer County District Judge Joseph Weatherby. Prosecutors promised to decide quickly whether to try him again.
New tests announced last week showed DNA found on the victim's clothing was not from Masters but from someone else.
Applause broke out in the courtroom as the hearing ended, but Masters showed little emotion as he hugged members of his defense team.
Later, he went before reporters and thanked his family and friends.
"Without their support, I don't know if I could have made it through this," he said.
Asked what he would do next, he said: "I want to go see my family."
Lawyers: Crucial details withheld
In 1987, the manager at a woman's clothing store was found stabbed and sexually mutilated in a field south of Fort Collins, but police investigated for more than a decade before arresting Masters. He was 15 at the time the woman died and lived near the field where her body was found.
Masters' new lawyers have said detectives wrongly focused on Masters instead of other suspects.
During recent appeals, both the defense and special prosecutors assigned to the case said crucial information was withheld from Masters' trial lawyers.
Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson — who was not the DA when Masters was convicted — defended the court system Tuesday.
"It is not, in any way, an indictment of the criminal justice system," he said of the case. "It just means we have new evidence and we have to take a look at it."