Drug Lord Convicted of Ordering Officer's Execution
Dec. 12, 1989
NEW YORK (AP) _ The leader of a violent drug gang was convicted of ordering the murder of a rookie police officer whose badge is kept by President Bush as a symbol of the war on illegal drugs.
Howard ''Pappy'' Mason, who commands a crack gang called the Bebos, was found guilty by a federal jury Monday of all 11 counts, including murder, conspiracy, racketeering and possessing and distrubuting drugs. He faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole for the death of Officer Edward Byrne, 22.
At the verdict, tears welled in the eyes of Byrne's father, Matthew, who gave his slain son's police shield to then-presidential candidate George Bush after the Feb. 26, 1988, slaying. The president keeps the badge in his Oval Office desk as a reminder of the perils of the drug war.
Mason, who boycotted the trial, appeared unmoved as he watched the verdict announced on closed-circuit television from a holding cell, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Pizzi.
''He didn't flinch; he just sat there,'' Pizzi said.
Matthew Byrne and his wife, Ann, left the courthouse without comment after thanking prosecutors.
Byrne was shot five times in the head as he sat in a car guarding the home of a witness in a drug case.
Prosecutors said Mason ordered the attack to solidify his position of leadership of the Bebos. Four members of the gang were convicted earlier this year in state court of carrying out the killing, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
''I hope this sends a message to people who are willing to give the orders that there is a high price to pay,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie R. Caldwell.
Testimony during the trial of the four killers said the order to kill came from Mason's cell at the Brooklyn House of Detention. He had been convicted on a weapons charge and jailed two days before the slaying.
The prosecution's key witness against Mason, Viola Nichols, told the jury he had directed the murder because another patrolman had ''disrespected '' him in front of his colleagues by upbraiding him for drinking beer in public. Her brother, Lorenzo ''Fat Cat'' Nichols, was one of the four already convicted.
Defense lawyer Harry C. Batchelder Jr. asked Judge Edward R. Korman to set the verdict aside, saying Mason was mentally incompetent to participate in his two-week trial. Korman denied the motion on 10 of the counts but reserved decision on the the murder charge.