February 2, 2008

"The Tim Masters Case: Chasing Reid Meloy"

That's the title of a hard-hitting article focusing on forensic psychologist Reid Meloy's troubling role in the Tim Masters case in Colorado that many of my forensic psychologist readers have been following closely. This continues to be quite the cautionary tale for the rest of us.

"Meloy's reports and opinions about Masters' artwork have been the source of controversy from the beginning, but never so much as during recent courtroom testimony in which reams of material was introduced for the first time that bring into question not only Meloy's objectivity but whether or not he even came to his conclusions independently," writes journalist Greg Campbell of Fort Collins (Colorado) Now.

Campbell hunted down Meloy at a 4-day youth violence risk assessment training course in San Diego, where Meloy was giving a talk entitled "Adolescent and Young Adult Mass Murder: Assessment and Management of a Catastrophic Risk." He describes Meloy as a "rock star" in the crowd of law enforcement officials, psychologists and education professionals:
" ... taking second billing in the world's small population of celebrity forensic investigators to Roy Hazelwood, Gregg McCreary and John Douglas if only because he never worked for the FBI as they did, and because he's not technically a 'criminal profiler,' a career that has proved so popular in recent American pop culture. His resume more than compensates for being just a step below these movie- and TV-show-inspiring pioneers, however. He is a professor at two San Diego universities, a faculty member of the San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute and former chief of the San Diego County Forensic Mental Health Division. He's written more than 170 papers published in peer-reviewed journals and has written or edited 10 books. Currently, he operates a private forensic practice, consults with the FBI on counterterrorism measures and works to analyze threats to British politicians and the Royal Family. He is a diplomate in forensic psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology.

"Meloy made no reference to Masters in his presentation, which was focused on the characteristics of mass murderers like Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Omaha mall shooter Robert Hawkins, and Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho. In general terms, Meloy outlined traits of these killers that were similar to traits he attributed to Masters. They tend to be loners. They use fantasy to compensate for shortcomings in their lives. They have poor family relationships. They have a fascination with weapons and war."
Campbell repeatedly emphasizes Meloy's refusal to publicly comment on the case or his role in it. He quotes Meloy as telling him: "I don't want to say anything extrajudicially. It's just too sensitive. ... There will be a time and a place."
"The forensic psychologist has never been shy about his opinion that Tim Masters' doodles made him a killer ... but now that charges are dropped, Reid Meloy has only one thing to say: 'No comment.' "
"Although he now doesn’t want to say anything extrajudicially, Meloy was interviewed for a 2000 documentary about the case that appeared on the A&E Network's 'Cold Case Files.' The show is an uncritical ode to how Meloy, Broderick, Gilmore and Blair [the police detectives] joined forces to crack the case using something akin to mentalism.

" 'After spending six months on the case, I felt I understood the motivations for this homicide and that I had become convinced that Timothy Masters was the individual that had committed this homicide,' Meloy said on the show.

"For Meloy, Masters' drawings represented a 'fantasy rehearsal' for the crime, especially a doodle on Masters' math homework of a knife-wielding hand cutting a diamond shape that Meloy interpreted as a vagina, 'which may have been a rehearsal of the genital mutilation,' as he wrote in his first report to Broderick.

"Equally damning in Meloy's interpretation was a picture Masters drew [that] depicted one figure dragging another, which was apparently wounded or dead, from behind. The wounded figure was riddled with arrows and blood seemed to flow from its back. The figure's heels dug furrows in the ground similar to furrows found where Hettrick’s body was dumped.

"Entirely discounting the presence of the arrows - which had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder - Meloy wrote in his report that this picture represented the crime as it actually happened."
Campbell describes Meloy's role as pivotal to Masters' conviction, providing the only "evidence" of guilt:
"Meloy was the cornerstone of that prosecution - without him, it's unlikely that Masters would have been arrested in the first place. To date, he has provided the only 'evidence' in the nearly 21 years since the murder that implicated Masters in any way: an analysis of Masters' boyhood doodles, crude sketches and violent short stories that - even in the complete vacuum of physical evidence connecting Masters to the crime - convinced Meloy he was guilty.

"Meloy drew his conclusion based on a review of certain evidence provided to him by [Detective] Broderick, including Broderick's own categorization and interpretation of Masters' fictional productions, police videotapes and suspect interrogation transcripts, among many more items.

"Meloy did not, however, speak to or interview Masters himself.

"It apparently wasn't necessary.

"In his first report to Broderick he plainly states in several places that Masters committed the crime - referring to him not as a 'suspect,' but a 'perpetrator' - and he was apparently so convinced that he sent a pretrial letter to then-Larimer County DA Stuart Van Meveren in which he hoped for a 'successful prosecution.'

"And thanks to Meloy's testimony, they got it.

"In court, the jury was bombarded with Masters' scary pictures that were shown on a large video monitor while Meloy pointed out features of them that he testified showed pairing of sex and violence; evidence of 'picquerism,' the sadistic pleasure derived from stabbing; degradation of women; and fascination with weapons and death.

"In his first report to Broderick, Meloy wrote that Masters killed Hettrick because he felt abandoned by his mother, who died unexpectedly almost exactly four years to the day before the murder. He opined that her death, an 'emotionally distant' relationship with his father who spent a lot of time away from home while on active duty in the Navy, the departure of his sister from their home to join the U.S. Army, and his retreat into a fantasy world combined to create a boiling kettle of latent violence just waiting to erupt.

" 'A retreat into such a compensatory narcissistic fantasy world, replete with sexuality and violence, works for awhile, but at a great cost,' Meloy wrote. 'The unexpressed rage continues, depression may ensue, and anger toward women as sources of both pain (abandonment) and erotic stimulation builds.'

" 'Sexual homicide represents the solution, particularly in the form it took in this case: If I kill a woman, she cannot abandon me; if I desexualize her (genital mutilation) she cannot stimulate me,' he wrote. 'These are not conscious thoughts for Tim Masters, but likely represent the unconscious beliefs that drove his behavior the night of Feb. 11, 1987, when he killed and sexually mutilated Peggy Hettrick, a victim of choice and opportunity. Ms. Hettrick represented all Women (sic) to Tim Masters.' "
The full article is online here. Also at that website are copies of some of Masters' so-called "scary doodles."

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