The Edmond Sun
OKLA. CITY —
A judge sentenced Connor Mason to life with the possibility of parole, saying he will serve about 66 years in prison.
Oklahoma County District Judge Jerry Bass mulled his decision following the end of Thursday’s hearing, choosing to come in on his scheduled day off rather than rush to judgment against the 22-year-old.
The action closes the legal book on a grueling case that began on Oct. 18, 2009, when Travis Jim reported the discovery of the blood-drenched body of Dwite Morgan, 54, at the homeless man’s campsite in an alley just west of downtown Edmond.
Police officers, Breakfast on Boulevard volunteers and staff of a downtown eatery were among the many members of the community who cared for the man affectionately called Bicycle Bob because he was often seen riding around the city on a bicycle.
Twists and turns in the case included Travis Jim’s confession and recantation, information from Shaun Parker and Heather Holden who testified about how Mason wanted to give Holden the victim’s severed finger as a trophy, a gift; the recovery of the murder weapon, a tipless knife, the exhumation and re-examination of the victim’s body, which produced knife fragments in the victim’s skull and hand and Mason’s public admission of guilt.
Often looking squarely at Mason, Bass called the crime one of the most brutal murders he has ever seen and spoke about the 42 injuries to the victim’s head and neck — 40 by a knife — and photographs of the victim’s bloody body.
Bass said during court proceedings he was told Mason was trustworthy, but wondered why it took him about three years to come clean and said the defendant’s apology was sincere but incomplete. He spoke about the inability to answer the why question in this crime.
“I do know that evil took place that night, absolute evil,” Bass said.
In the way that the community responded to the crime with care and compassion, love conquered evil in Edmond, the judge said.
Following Friday morning’s hearing, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said the judge had a lot of testimony from both sides, a senseless and extremely brutal murder and a young person’s life to consider.
“But the truth is, no matter how this young man got here Dwite Morgan didn’t deserve to be murdered,” Prater said. “He certainly didn’t deserve the brutality that he suffered the day he was killed.”
Prater said there is no way to fix someone who commits this type of crime. Mason made a choice when he walked down a dark alley that night and brutalized the victim and cut his finger off as a trophy to show his friends, Prater said.
Individuals committing violent crimes are getting younger and younger and there’s no reset button on these real-life video games being played today, Prater said. Youth don’t seem to have any sense of value of a human life anymore, he said.
“Life has no value anymore,” Prater said. “It’s a video game. It’s a joke.”
Mason’s lead defense attorney, Shawn Jefferson, said his client has no plans to appeal the verdict, and the judge had two choices — life or life without parole.
“Judge Bass is always fair, appropriate, reasonable and extremely conscientious,” Jefferson said. “Mr. Mason has been at a place of acceptance for a long time. This was not a surprise to him.”
Jefferson said the judge hopes to one day have a more complete answer to the why question. Crimes like this always confuse everyone — communities, the court, lawyers.
“There’s nothing easy to understand,” Jefferson said.
Mason opted to submit a written statement during the sentencing phase rather than speak before the judge. He took responsibility for his actions and he embraced the situation and the facts of the case, Jefferson said.
“He owned it,” Jefferson said.
Mason was the last defendant. In May, Nikolas Kerr, who faced an accessory after the fact of first-degree murder for knowing about the crime and not telling police, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors. He was released from jail in March 2010. Kerr was originally charged with first-degree murder, which was amended after new evidence came to light. He was cooperating with prosecutors as the trial date approached.
Holden also faced an accessory after the fact charge. She reached an agreement on a lesser charge and was freed. Holden testified Mason showed her the finger and that he had been planning the murder for months.
A MINI TRIAL
During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, the state presented one witness, Edmond Police Detective Mark Oak, the primary investigator in the case, and the defense presented seven witnesses, including Mason’s mother.
In speaking about Mason, defense attorneys and witnesses painted a picture of a highly intelligent person who was well-behaved in high school but had subpar decision-making skills, suffered from a fractured home life and depression, lived a sheltered childhood, was protective of his mother, longed for social acceptance, got involved with a group that often spoke and fantasized about death and murder, committed a brutal crime and has been spiritually transformed through a jail ministry.
Holden said when she saw Mason on Oct. 18, 2009, he was excited, that he said the murder was amazing, Oak testified.
Assistant District Attorney Clayton Niemeyer argued that Mason had led a fairly normal life being one who graduated from high school, held a full-time job, had a girlfriend and was a part-time college student.
Niemeyer said he was speaking on behalf of the victim who didn’t hurt anyone during his 54 years on earth. Niemeyer said Morgan’s last word, uttered when he was awoken, being attacked, looked at the defendant, pleaded with him to stop and said, “Why?”
“This isn’t a nice young man,” Niemeyer said. “This is evil. That’s the only answer.”
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