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The cautionary tale in Lance Mason’s preferential treatment and the system’s failure to protect his wife from further harm: editorial

November 25, 2018

The cautionary tale in Lance Mason’s preferential treatment and the system’s failure to protect his wife from further harm: editorial

Let’s be clear: The horrific killing eight days ago of Aisha Fraser Mason, allegedly at the hands of her estranged husband, Lance Mason, a former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge, was not caused by the administration of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson giving Mason a job after he got out of prison.

Rather, this tragedy is a morality tale about what-ifs: What if those with political connections hadn’t intervened to try to help Mason get out of prison early? What if the courts made it more of a priority to protect survivors of domestic violence?

Mayor Jackson believes in second chances for felons and he’s right to do so. We applaud those efforts.

Yes, as we wrote last year, Jackson’s administration wasn’t right to quietly slide Mason into a City Hall job. But that was because of the depth of depravity of his August 2014 attack on Fraser Mason in front of their two young children – and the message that giving him a job on the public dime sent to other survivors of domestic violence. It was an attack so vicious that a panel of fellow lawyers recommended that Lance Mason lose his law license permanently (they were overruled by Ohio Supreme Court justices, who unanimously ordered only an indefinite suspension, another second chance).

It was Mason who squandered his second chances. It was Mason who, according to police, appears to have stabbed his wife to death, apparently during a visitation handoff of their two daughters. It was Mason who didn’t do enough to corral his anger and live the love he expressed for his daughters above all other things.

Mason’s terrible and sustained 2014 beating and biting of his wife – leaving her lying, cruelly wounded, in the street amid traffic as he drove off with the girls -- seemed out of character for the former assistant county prosecutor, Democratic state representative, Democratic state senator and judge. In 2010, our editorial board had endorsed his election as judge, citing his competence and glowing ratings from three local bar associations.

But one overarching fact of violent domestic abuse is that many abusers abuse again. That’s what makes it such a heinous crime of violence. It’s something the courts and all of us need to take far more seriously, to treat appropriately and also punish appropriately, with sufficient safeguards for survivors of that abuse.

City Hall was almost last in line of those trying to help Mason turn his life around.

The courts allowed Mason to plead down from first- and second-degree felony charges to a third-degree felony (attempted felonious assault) along with a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. How a vicious beating that required multiple hospitalizations for Fraser Mason and years of counseling for his children could be construed as “attempted” is mystifying. 

Then Mason served only nine months of an already lenient two-year prison sentence, his early release helped along by glowing letters from a raft of political all-stars, including U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge.

Maybe, just maybe, if he’d served his full sentence, with longer exposure to available counseling and anger-management programs, he would have been better able to guide his actions after his release. But, maybe not.

When a judge ordered Mason’s early release, in June 2016, there were conditions attached, including that, for the next five years, he was “to have no contact, directly or indirectly, with the victim, Aisha Fraser Mason.” Domestic Relations Court was given jurisdiction over “the method and mode” of visitation with his children. 

How that order was converted into a situation where Fraser Mason could be killed is not clear.

Convicted violent felons -- especially in domestic violence cases -- must be subject upon release from prison to sufficient controls and supervision that they cannot easily perpetrate further harm to their victims, and they must be required to continue with regular anger management and counseling programs. 

Survivor counseling and outreach, including frequent check-ins to make sure the abuser is not violating court orders, should also be provided, and innovative approaches should also be explored. Manchester, England, for instance, uses risk-management tools to guide the intervention efforts of a special team for high-risk domestic abuse cases.

Of course, a determined perpetrator will often find a way to do harm. But it must be made as hard as possible. And friends of a seemingly nice guy (or nice gal) do him or her no favors by seeking to short-circuit the redemptive process of credible prosecution and sentences in keeping with the crime.

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer -- the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.   

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