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

A man who until only a few weeks ago was serving life without parole could soon be released from prison thanks to a statewide criminal justice reform.

Brian Mason agreed in San Diego County Superior Court on Tuesday to a new 35-year sentence, after a judge in October vacated his decades-old felony-murder charge. He was still liable for several underlying crimes.

Mason was just out of high school, in 1999, when prosecutors accused him of taking part in a National City motel room robbery that ended with the death of another man, Henry Mabry. Though Mason didn’t pull the trigger, the district attorney argued at trial that he was no less culpable for the homicide and a jury agreed.

But in 2018, California lawmakers approved SB 1437, which scaled back the definition of felony murder, over the objections of law enforcement groups. Advocates believe Mason is the first person in San Diego County serving life without parole to successfully petition for relief.

San Diego County Supervisor Joel Anderson, a Republican, co-authored the bill when he was in the legislature, arguing that it was needed to ensure a person’s sentence was commensurate with their actual role in a crime.

It’s not yet clear how much longer Mason will be in prison. His supporters said they’re still waiting for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to calculate his time served and credit for good conduct. He has already served more than 20 years.

Mason expressed remorse at Tuesday’s hearing for what happened in that motel room in 1999, according to his wife, Shannell. She expressed relief after the hearing, and said she plans to give him a calendar so he has a future to look forward to.

“Now we’re just counting days,” she said.

Deputy Alternate Public Defender Vickie Fernandes, who argued on Mason’s behalf, said she was happy for him and his family.

“He deserves a second chance and I hope he has a beautiful life,” she said.

Neither the district attorney’s office nor Mabry’s mother, who also spoke in court Tuesday, returned a request for comment. 

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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