From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies. Harry A. Blackmun, former U.S. Supreme Court Judge, (1) & (2) Callins v. Collins, 114 S.Ct.1127 (1994); (3) PBS Online NewsHour, 3/5/2004; (4) Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 (1993).

Friday, 3 October 2008

GOOD NEWS!! Appeals court tosses death sentence for Ohio man

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the death sentence of a man convicted of beating and raping a woman and dumping her body in an abandoned building in 1993.

A 3-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a split-decision in the case of Maurice Mason.

The panel by a 2-1 vote held that Mason had poor legal help in the sentencing portion of his 1994 trial in Marion County in the death of Robin Dennis, 19, of Essex.

The appeals court said Mason's lawyers failed to interview his family and investigate "the obvious red flags" in state records suggesting that Mason's childhood was pervaded by violence and exposure to drugs in the home from an early age.

Prosecutors have six months to hold a new sentencing hearing, the court

The state will review the decision and consider its options, which include
asking for a review by the full court, said Jim Gravelle, a spokesman for
the Ohio attorney general's office.

David Stebbins, who represented Mason on appeal, praised the ruling.

"Obviously we have been litigating this for a long time," he said. "Trial counsel had simply not done an investigation into his background and his entire childhood was not presented."

Stebbins said Mason's parents were drug dealers who sold drugs out of their home, Mason's father ran a prostitution ring and there was violence in the house - with Mason's mother once shooting his father in front of their children.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore, joined by Judge Eric Clay, delivered the 6th Circuit opinion that reversed a 2005 federal district court decision denying Mason's petition.

Chief Judge Danny Boggs dissented, writing that the opinion "sets an almost impossibly high bar for defense counsel in capital cases."

Dennis' body was found inside an abandoned building in rural Marion County on Feb. 13, 1993. An autopsy concluded that she was struck in the head and her skull was fractured. Mason was convicted June 18, 1994, in Marion County Common Pleas Court of rape and aggravated murder with a death penalty specification that the murder occurred during the commission of a rape.

On the Net: 6th Circuit:

(source: Associated Press)

Monday, 19 May 2008

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Introduction to Maurice Mason's Case

Robin Dennis and Chris Dennis.

The body of Robin Dennis, a nineteen (19) year old white female was found on February 13, 1993, in an abandoned World War 11 era munitions shed in rural Marion County, Ohio, five days after she had last been seen.

She has a fractured skull and lacerations on her scalp.

Robin Dennis was married to Chris Dennis, an alcoholic who drank a twelve pack of beer daily.

Chris Dennis had struck Robin Dennis on many occasions, injuring her repeatedly.

Chris Dennis had similarly struck his first wife, and had beaten a friend into unconciousness before leaving him in the woods to die. Shortly before she was killed, Chris Dennis had convinced Robin Dennis to change her life insurance beneficiary from her father to him.

B. Robin Dennis and Maurice Mason

Maurice Mason had been introduced to Robin by Chris Dennis in September of 1992.

Later that day, Robin again met Mason, reporting that her husband was drunk and that he had left her. They went out for something to eat, before retiring to a vacant apartment belonging to Mason's parents, where they engaged in sexual relations.

After that first encounter, Mason and Robin Dennis had sexual relations several other times, including February 8, 1993, (the last day Robin Dennis was seen alive) in the bathroom of the home where they were both attending a party.

C. The Party.

On February 8, 1993, Robin Dennis, her husband, Chris Dennis, Maurice Mason and several others met at the home of Michael and Carolyn Young where they drank beer and partied.
Sometime during the day, Chris Dennis brought his gun into the Young hime and showed it to everyone who was there.

Chris Dennis and Maurice Mason discussed the gun, although Mason never actually had the gun in his hands or possession.

Later that day Chris Dennis passed out from drinking too much. When he awoke, Robin was gone and he threatened to kill her for abandoning him,

Carolyn Young eventually drove Chris Dennis home. Chris Dennis reported Robin Dennis missing the next day.

D. Maurice Mason is Questioned and Arrested.

On February 10th, 1993, Maurice Mason was picked up for questioning. He was brought to the police station, interviewed for a short period, and returned home.

Mason denied any involvement in the disappearance of Robin Dennis.

On February 12th 1993, Maurice Mason was picked up again and questioned for four hours before he was given his Miranda warnings.

Upon being given these warnings, Mason was immediately arrested by his parole officer, who had been observing the questioning for over 3 hours.
At the time of the interviews Mason was the only real suspect in the crime.

Mason was told he was not under arrest and was not informed that his parole officer was there to arrest him after the interview was complete.
Had Mason known he was a suspect, he would not have answered questions, and he would have requested an attorney.
Mason did not feel free to leave the interview.

E. Mason is Indicted

Mason was indicted for the purposeful killing of Robin Dennis during the commission of a rape, with a single specification of a statutory aggravating circumstance that the aggravated murder was committed during the commission of a rape pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2929.04 (A)(7) and the seperate crime of possessing a weapon under disability and a seperate charge of rape.

F. Counsel Requests Time and Money to Prepare

Repeatedly prior to trial, Mason sought authorization from the court for funds to secure reasonable and necessary investigative and expert assistance. The trial court arbitrarily denied most of Mason's requests, and limited the remainder.

Likewise, prior to trial, Mason repeatedly demonstrated the need for a continuance, explaining in great detail why they were unprepared to effectively represent Mason unless the trial was continued.

The trial court ruled that unless counsel went forward, the court would have no alternative but to remove counsel from the case and , as a sanction, award no attorney fee's for work already done.

Under this threat, counsel agreed to proceed with the trial.

The Trial of Maurice Mason

Evidence demonstrated that on the date of the murder, Chris Dennis was so drunk he passed out. When he awoke he threatend to kill Robin Dennis for abandoning him while he was passed out.

Mason attempted to introduce evidence that Chris Dennis had murdered his wife, including evidence:

Dennis had, in the past, when drunk beaten another person in the head, and then left the person in a field to die.

That one year prior to the trial, Dennis had attacked his ex wife's boyfriend with a machete, causing him severe injury.

That Dennis had beated his ex wife, Annette Dennis, when they were married.

The trial court EXCLUDED this evidence.

While the jury did not hear this evidence aboout Chris Dennis, it did hear that Maurice Mason had his parole violated because of his alleged involvement in this case, and that he had previously had his parole revoked for drinking while on parole, having a weapon under disability, and associating with a known felon.

There was conflicting evidence as to what actually transpired on the afternoon of February 8th, 1983.

Steve Wolford testified that he was at the Young home when someone named, "Maurice", Chris Dennis, and Robin Dennis arrived at the home.

Robin Dennis and "Maurice" later left the home together. However, Wolford could not identify the person he referred to as "Maurice", through pictures, or in court. He did recall that "Maurice" was a black man.

Michael Young testified that Mason and Robin Dennis left alone in Robin's car.

Carolyn Young testified that Chris and Robin Dennis were at her house with two black men, and that Chris, Robin, and the two black men left the house together.

As Carolyn left the house she saw Chris, Robin and the two black men returning to the house.

When she returned Chris Dennis was back at her house passed out on the floor. Robin and the two black men were gone.

Chris Dennis admitted that he had drank far too much alcohol on February 8th, testified that Rickie McDuffie, a black man, had been with them on February 8th, and that before he passed out, he remembered Carolyn and Michael Young being there along with Mason and Robin Dennis.

Chris Dennis eventually woke up and became furious that his wife had left him there and threatened to kill her ("If I find her I'll kill her). Chris Dennis threatened to leave his wife ("he was gonna beat her up so she'd better have a good excuse")

Carolyn Young testified that Chris Dennis was drunk, angry and violent. ("He (Chris) was getting too wild to be at my house. I wanted to get him out of my house, "I was scared-- he was going-- started drinking again, and he just kept saying thinks like he was gonna kill her and he was stamping through my house basically. Not pacing. Stamping. And he was getting very angry, and I didn't want him in my house no more. I was scared".

There was a dispute as to when Robin Dennis was last seen alive. Carolyn Young reported tha she saw Robin riding in her Buick with three (3) black men around 9.30 or 10.00 that evening of February 8 1993.

She was certain it was Robin's Buick because one of the headlights was out.

Robin Dennis' car was recoverd on February 10th, 1993, in a field near the munitions shed where Robin Dennis' body was ultimately founf several days later.

Another witness testified that at about 4.15 pm on February 8th 1993, he saw a black male walking through a field near the area where the car was ultimately found, although he could not identify Mason as that man. He never saw the man's face and only observed the man for about 2 or 3 seconds.

A Marion County Sheriff's Deputy, reported seeing a black man in the area, in the late afternoon of Febraury 8th 1993. The deputy testified that he knew Mason but could not identify the man as Mason until a week later on the 15th Feb 1993, when he saw a photo of Mason.

On February 9th, 1993, a patrolman observed a pickup - truck and a sedan, possibly, a Buick stopped in the area where the body was found.
He saw two middle aged white males talking to each other in the field.

1. Mr. Mason was convicted of aggravated murder in a case that involved the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman, Robin Dennis, in February 1993, and because Mr. Mason was having a sexual relationship with this woman, his DNA was found.

2. But Mr. Mason has always claimed to be innocent of this crime, although he has a long criminal record involving drug-related offenses and burglary as a result of growing up in a family where both parents used and trafficked in drugs, giving both marijuana and cocaine to their son as a child, and bringing him into the 'family business' when he was around 12.

3. The fact that Robin Dennis was found clutching blonde hair, when Maurice Mason is an African-American with nappy black hair, (and much other evidence) appears to have been ignored by all and sundry, but now there is further evidence to support his innocence.

4. Mr. Mason has was sent a copy of the Coroner's report on the death of Mrs. Dennis, which he had not previously seen, of which he has sent me a photocopy. The report states that the date of death was February 13th, at which time Mr. Mason was in jail on a parole violation.

Robin Dennis went missing on February 8th 1993, and Maurice Mason was picked up for questioning and subsequently arrested and jailed for a parole violation on February 12th. According to the Coroner's Report Robin Dennis was not killed until the next day February 13th, at which time Mr. Mason was still in jail, and clearly could not have committed the murder.

Being black, indigent and having a criminal record, Mr. Mason does not have many people batting for him, and I fear that if something is not done soon, Maurice Mason will be one of the next innocent men to die for a crime he did not commit.

Another cause for concern with this case is the U.S Supreme Court's ruling that it is constitutional to execute an INNOCENT person as long as they had a "fair" trial. Consider that in more than 114 (25 in Florida) wrongful convictions/death row exonerations since 1972, All of these people were at one point considered to have received a "fair" trial.

Remember, when the wrong person is convicted, the actual killer remains free