Illustration by Daniel Stolle for Voice of San Diego
Illustration by Daniel Stolle for Voice of San Diego

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A San Diego County Superior Court judge has vacated a decades-old felony-murder conviction, opening up the possibility that a man condemned to die in prison will be released. 

Advocates believe Brian Mason is the first person in San Diego County serving life without parole to successfully petition a judge for a new sentence under state law.

As Jesse Marx reported in March, Mason was part of a group involved in a motel room robbery in National City that ended when another man pulled out a gun and began firing. Though Mason didn’t pull the trigger, he was considered responsible for the murder that took place in 1999 and denied the ability to seek parole in the future.

That’s no longer the case.

Following a two-day hearing earlier this month, Judge David Berry ruled that the evidence fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mason knew his conduct involved a “grave risk of death” and demonstrated a “reckless indifference to human life.” These seemingly convoluted phrases were legal hurdles that needed to be met for Mason’s petition to be successful. 

Mason’s case, like hundreds of others in California, is testing the limits of a statewide criminal justice reform, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018, that advocates portrayed as a blow against mass incarceration. Opposition to SB 1437, which scaled back the definition of what constitutes a felony murder, came from district attorneys. Other court rulings have also laid the groundwork for relief in felony murder cases.

“There will be more to come,” said Kate Chatfield, a policy advisor who drafted SB 1437.

Read more here. 

North County Report: The Gunshots From an Escondido Plant Nursery Continue

John Carroll walks his dog Cooper in the San Pasqual neighborhood in Escondido on Sept 28, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Last month, we told the story of a group of residents in an Escondido suburb that have been living next door to the sounds of constant gunshots for more than six years.

The gunshots are coming from a soon-to-be plant nursery just north of Escondido owned by the Freedom Fighters Foundation.

They claim that only friends and family shoot there, which is allowed in the county. But neighbors say the shooting is constant, and they don’t believe the property is only used by family and friends.  

Despite years of complaints and calls for an investigation by the nearby residents, the shooting hasn’t stopped. 

This week, we took a deeper dive into how the story came to be and what we’ve learned in the weeks since.

Read the full story here.

In Other News

  • Despite a new state law that requires law enforcement agencies to make sustained findings of discrimination by personnel public, KPBS writes that very few local agencies have reported any.
  • The county will pay more than $4 million to a woman who gouged out her eyes while in sheriff’s custody at the Las Colinas Detention Facility after a lawsuit alleged deputies failed to properly restrain her. (CBS 8) 
  • San Diego’s sale of a four-block parking lot to a development team led by the Padres is in limbo until a lawsuit challenging the legality of the transaction plays out. The City Council voted on Tuesday to amend the contract and extend the original escrow closing date into next year. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego County is a party to lawsuits against several opioid manufacturers and is expecting $100 million to come down through a settlement. In anticipation, the Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal to use the money on medically assisted treatment and more. (Times of San Diego) 
  • California’s political watchdog has dismissed a complaint against Chula Vista mayoral candidate John McCann related to his hiring of a private investigator to surveil his opponent. (Union-Tribune) 

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, Tigist Layne and Jakob McWhinney. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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