FORT COLLINS, Colorado (CNN) -- A Colorado judge threw out Tim Masters' 1999 murder conviction on Tuesday and ordered Masters freed immediately.
Tim Masters was 15 years old when Peggy Hettrick was brutally slain in 1987.
1 of 3 more photos » Cheers and applause erupted as Masters walked out of court with his attorneys, David Wymore and Maria Liu.
A jury convicted Masters 12 years after the mutilated corpse of Peggy Hettrick, 37, was found in a field near his trailer. Masters was 15 at the time.
Masters, in new clothes bought by his lawyers for the hearing, appeared dazed and elated.
"They did a fantastic job," Masters said of his lawyers at a hastily convened news conference following the hearing.
"I want to go see my family," he stated.
Wymore said he would "urge the prosecutors to dismiss all charges as soon as possible." He added, "It's an opportunity to do the right thing."
Wymore thanked former investigator Linda Wheeler-Holloway, who came forward with her doubts about the conviction. He also thanked journalists "for not letting sink into a dark hole."
A special prosecutor made the request to vacate the conviction, citing new DNA evidence that points to someone else in Hettrick's murder.
Masters spent more than nine years behind bars for a murder he always insisted he didn't commit. He had been under investigation for the slaying for more than half his life.
Despite the prospect of a new trial, a local district attorney says Masters may no longer be a suspect.
After a special prosecutor announced Friday that new DNA evidence in the case warranted a retrial, District Attorney Larry Abrahamson issued a statement Monday explaining it might be unnecessary to try Masters again.
"In light of newly discovered evidence revealed to me on Friday," Abrahamson wrote, "I will be moving as expeditiously as possible to make the determination of whether all charges against Timothy Masters will be dismissed."
Masters was 15 when a passing cyclist discovered the mutilated body of Hettrick, 37, near his home. Masters has said since February 12, 1987 -- the day after the murder -- that he did not commit the crime. Watch police question 15-year-old Masters »
Police mounted an investigation that ultimately saw Masters jailed in 1998 and sentenced to life in prison for murder in 1999.
On Friday, after months of hearings in which Masters' new defense team alleged police and prosecutorial misdeeds in the investigation and trial, special prosecutor Don Quick delivered what was likely the best news of Masters' life.
The latest on the the Tim Masters case.
10 p.m. ET
see full schedule »
A defense-commissioned DNA test -- subsequently backed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation -- pointed to "a potential suspect in the early investigation of Peggy Hettrick's murder," Quick said in a news conference.
However, Quick did not say the evidence vindicated Masters, only that it met "the constitutional requirements" for a new trial. Watch Masters talk about what he'll do when he's likely released »
In a Monday phone interview, Quick said it was up to the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which had recused itself from the latest hearings, to determine the next step.
Abrahamson of the Eighth Judicial Circuit said not only was he trying to decide whether to scrap the case against Masters but also that he wanted to review all "contested convictions" in which advances in DNA testing may prove useful.
He also said he wanted to review the discovery process and that he had met with the Fort Collins police chief and his officers "to discuss the critical flow of information with assurance that all information is available to our office and the defense."
In 1987, a bicyclist found the maimed body of Peggy Hettrick, 37, near the home of Tim Masters.
Masters, then 15, quickly became the top suspect in the slaying, but it was not until 1999 that police and prosecutors saw Masters convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In hearings that began in September, Masters' new defense team is alleging police and prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation and trial. If a specially appointed judge concurs, Masters' attorneys say they plan to file a motion for a new trial. The statement is noteworthy because the crux of the new defense team's allegations against the Fort Collins police and Eighth Judicial Circuit is that they withheld evidence favorable to Masters during his 1999 trial.
Quick filed a motion this month citing four instances in which police and prosecutors should have handed over evidence to Masters' original defense team. See the key players in the case »
Among them was a police interview with a plastic surgeon who said it was improbable that a teen could have made the meticulous cuts necessary to remove Hettrick's body parts. Also, according to Quick's motion, police failed to divulge that a renowned FBI profiler warned police that Masters' penchant for doodling gruesome horror scenes did not tie him to the crime.
Those sketches, along with a collection of narratives and knives, helped convince the jury of Masters' guilt. No physical evidence was found tying Masters to the crime.
Masters' defense attorneys David Wymore and Maria Liu said they are confident their client will walk out of the Larimer County Justice Center on Tuesday. So confident, said Liu, that they took him street clothes Monday night -- a navy sports coat with tan pants and a yellow tie.
Quick is confident, too. He said he wants the paperwork for Masters' release prepared before Tuesday morning's hearing. He predicted the proceedings will take no more than 45 minutes, barring any anomalies.
KUSA: Masters won't believe it until he walks out
DNA points to new killer in '99 case
Defense demands new trial for Masters (PDF)
Prosecution says evidence not turned over (PDF)
Masters, however, is still skeptical, Liu said.
"He's not convinced it's happening, that it's true, until it actually happens," she said.
While Liu is confident Masters will walk out of the courthouse, she appears more cynical about the prospect of Abrahamson dropping the charges against her client.
"Until I see it in writing and verbally presented in court, I'm not going to get my hopes up," she said. "We're going to keep plugging as if we're preparing for trial."
If Abrahamson drops the charges against Masters, the investigation likely will focus on the new DNA evidence, Quick said. Authorities have the partial DNA profiles of three men, one of them matching a full DNA profile provided by the defense.
But even with the DNA evidence, many questions remain: To whom do the other partial profiles belong? How did the physical evidence arrive on Hettrick's clothing? How long has it been there? And ultimately, who killed her?
"I'm hoping for both Mr. Masters and the Hettrick family that we can answer those questions," Quick said.
Click to view image: '143742-t1home_masters_wlk_pool.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|