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The Brian Mason case

 April 7, 2023 at 9:00 AM PDT

S1: Hey , hey , hey. What's happening ? This is Parker Edison. We're a couple weeks away from the official start of season three of the p p on KPBS. And to get you warmed up , we're releasing two bonus episodes. I started both of them when we were wrapping up season two , and they kind of got stuck in this limbo. So I'm super geeked that you'll get to hear them. They're deep connected to my real life. One of them is sort of dark and the others a little lighter. So with no further ado , this is Bonus Episode one , the Brian Mason Case.

S2: You are now tuned to the Parker Edison Project and project.

S1: During season one. Pillars of the Community asked me to narrate a video being put together to spread awareness on a legal mistake that drastically change the trajectory of a young man's life.

S3: I'm the director of operations for a nonprofit in southeast San Diego. Pillars of the Community. And I initially became involved in Brian Mason's case because my my first boyfriend as a as a young teen was murdered and from his community. And when I would go visit , they would always say , what happened to Brian was wrong and I didn't understand that. So I was like , what happened ? And I had saw one of the guys in the case at the park at Juneteenth , he was still out. So this all had to be like 99 , 2000. This is going on. But I didn't understand what happened and the community couldn't explain it to me. They just knew it was unfair. And I didn't know Brian. I knew his older brother. He was younger than me. And so I met Brian when my husband , who's actually going through the same issue , I started learning about the law. So I was like , What is this law where you don't kill anyone and you get death ? I don't understand. This law doesn't exist because we didn't live this life. How would we know this ? We're not in those courtrooms. And someone was like , It's called felony murder. I was like , this is not right. And somehow I think his wife saw what I was doing on social media and connected us. And before it was a bill , even when it was just a thought , it was just a resolution , meet him. And I started working together. Yes , he's an organizer by nature. This young man will have 100 people call down to the legislative at any moment. This young man , he's just an organizer. So he and I would do all this organizing. And then he has these people that he can have work for him , his wife , his friends. They do work for him. They love him. And so he's just I don't know what it is. And so we're just getting to know each other. This is like maybe four years ago at the time. And there's no bill. He has a death sentence. I read his case and I'm like , what the what they did to Brian ? And the way was not okay. It was unfair and it was them. This is not about my husband. This is about everybody in this kid right here. I don't even understand how his mom can even go to sleep at night. Right. And when heard how it affected her because I know I couldn't how it affected her when her her son , he was the son who was never in trouble. He was a son who went to school and did well in an area that was riddled by gang violence. But he wasn't a gang member. Was he an associate when he was younger ? Probably. His whole family were gang members , but he was the son who took everyone trick or treating. He was the son who never got to fights everything that he did. He was the model child. So I'm like , How did he get documented in a gang ? Come to find out , He gets documented because he's at a taco shop with somebody else who's documented getting food and the police documented him. Yo , that's where it starts.



S1: And that's that simple document documentation. That's all he got to do.

S3: He's documented and none of us knew this. They don't we don't realize how the police are putting our kids into systems , how the police put some of us into these systems because it was secret for so long. Right. You couldn't even ask if you were documented , they would tell you it's none of your business. It's none of my business. If you have me on a surveillance list.

S1: And it's not from it's specifically it's not from when you're talking about what happened with Brian. That's not from an infraction. He wasn't arrested. This was the police are walking up conversation. And from what they get in this conversation , they create a file and that's how we get gang documentation. Sometimes.

S3: Sometimes. I've never been in trouble a day in his life. We have people on gang injunctions , a civil case that prevents you from going to neighborhoods , your mother's house who had never gang banged in the world in your life. And not only that , other people who are on that gang injunction who had never had a felony in their lives. Wow. And they stayed on for 20 years.


S3: Okay. After 20 years with no compensation , people sold their homes because their children could no longer come and moved. So you help re gentrify our community with racist laws. And we're seeing after effects of that. And all the news has to say is gang members , gang members were all gang members to this to people who don't know us. And people allow that and never took a second look. And some of the issues you have out of that were things that happen to Brian Mason and what happened to him. And as a mom of a young man , I hope that I give my kids everything that can get them through this , through life , through adulthood. But when you're young and you're a kid and someone else is making decisions , how your decision making and navigation skills scientifically won't let you make the right decisions. So what happened to Brian Mason Didn't have anything to do with what Brian Mason did , but with someone else he was with did right and he was punished for that.

S1: Let me let me backtrack me backtrack , because that's that's important. I became familiar with this court case think in March 2021 when Pilhas was putting together a recording to make people aware of what was happening with Brian Mason and one 90.2 D Yes. Think was in progress right Then we recorded a clip. Brian Mason was one of the cherished jewels of his community in San Diego , California , Surrounded by the war on drugs and an upsurge in violence , Brian managed to keep his head out of trouble. He enjoyed spending time with loved ones by lending a helping hand to family and friends. He graduated from high school without a blemish on his record and secured a job shortly after. With his hard work , Brian was the first of his friends to purchase a car. On July 6th , 1999 , Brian drove his friends to a motel party where they hung out with another group of young men in the pool area. Everyone was getting along , having a good time and eventually they all went to the motel room and started rapping together. Some of the lyrics got out of hand and when some of their new acquaintances felt insulted , Brian's group was asked to leave. When they got back to the car , Brian's friend realized he forgot his jacket in the motel room. When the group went back to retrieve the jacket , there was a quick exchange of words. The situation escalated and turned into a fight. During the fight , one of his friends was getting beaten up pretty badly , so his friend's younger brother fired a shot and ended up killing someone. Brian's friend then fired another shot towards the other group. Because of the unfortunate events that unfolded that night , the DA wanted to charge Brian for murder , which means they had to find an underlying felony in order for this charge to stick. The evidence against Brian and his group included a broken chain necklace found at the scene , along with the witness testimonial , citing a line that the gunman shouted , Break yourself with this evidence against them. Brian and his group were charged with robbery. Brian had a clean record , but with the robbery charge in place , the prosecutor utilized an enhancement term called major participant and reckless indifference to human life. To uphold the murder charge. Brian did not shoot a gun. He did not have a gun. He did not plan to murder anyone. He did not aid in a bed of murder , nor did he have an intent to murder. In our justice system , a person in Brian's situation can still be given the death sentence regardless of all the aforementioned facts due to the penal code. 190.2 D , also known as special circumstances. Murder Intent to kill is not always required for this enhancement charge and is an automatic sentence to life behind bars or death. Brian unfortunately received the death sentence for reckless indifference to human life , an enhancement term that most people do not understand , a term that is not explained well under its own penal code. So what exactly constitutes reckless indifference to human life ? Brian Mason was sentenced to the death penalty for his mere involvement in the fight. Brian's participation did not inflict any major damage , yet he is sentenced to die. Brian sentence is actually more harsh than if he had actually premeditated the whole incident.

S3: It was used through organizers all across the state. It was used to help with a policy bill called SB 300 , which needed it was a bill. Most bills. All you need is a majority because of the constitutional amendment. This bill needed two thirds , but it didn't matter. A lot of times we fight bills knowing we're going to lose , but we need to get the education out there. So it's an ability to campaign all types of organizers at it who would then show that video , Look at this , and they'll be like , What the heck ? And the judges and lawyers and people can research the case and they're like , what the right. And it will be used probably for a long time.

S4: That's that's wonderful. That's wonderful.

S1: We'll tap back in with Layla in a bit. I want to take a quick breather. When we come back , you'll hear from a public defender whose legal knowledge has. Helps make a little more sense of all this. Stick around.

S2: Stay tuned for more of the pep. Pep.

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S6: And now back to the pep.

S1: I know how it often plays out , but I wanted insights to understand the legal details.

S7: My name is Vicki Fernandez. I am a deputy alternate public defender. That means that I'm an attorney that does criminal defense. We are part of the public defender's office and essentially we're the biggest criminal defense law firm , so to speak , in the county of San Diego. And I've represented hundreds , if not thousands of people from misdemeanors all the way up to homicides with special circumstances.


S7: And that's what Brian did. He filed a petition to try to have his conviction vacated. I was appointed to represent him on that petition.


S7: That is an allegation that's called the special circumstance allegation that can be filed or charged by the DA's office if they so choose to do so on certain types of murder cases. That section has a long list of I think it's 23 or 27 subsections. And if the DA's office believes that one of those 27 circumstances applies to a particular murder case , they can file that allegation. If they file that allegation , what it does legally for that person , if they get convicted of that , that they are eligible for the death penalty or life without parole , depending on what punishment the DA decides to pursue. My personal opinion is that it is a response sort of to all the criminal justice reform that has been happening. I think that. There is a resistance from law enforcement , from prosecutorial agencies. There's a big resistance from them for a lot of these , you know , a lot of these changes , a lot of these laws that , you know , really do provide opportunities for our clients to , you know , get out of prison early , to avoid prison , to , you know , have for youthful offenders to have an opportunity to get paroled early. You know , all of those things I think that they are they have is sort of we have to drag them kicking and screaming sort of thing. Like they don't really want to be a part of that. And so if there's a case where , you know , in their minds they have a very heinous crime with a very heinous , you know , quote unquote , defendant , and they think that they can prove that beyond a reasonable , reasonable doubt. It's a chance for them to sort of , you know , lock that person away. That person's not going to be eligible for any relief , you know , so to speak. That's really a way for them to make sure that that person is punished severely. So I think that's that's partly why , um , you know , I think from their perspective that they would say that , you know , there has been an increase in homicides , you know , in San Diego. And this is this is their response , that is that , you know , people have to be punished for their crimes.

S1: You know , just like you said , you've seen hundreds of cases , if not more.

S7: She's been very supportive of him. She's always kept me informed about what's going on with Brian. She really has kind of been like his messenger. Brian , for the most part , has been housed at Solano , which is pretty far. You know , we don't really have the resources to travel around to all the different prisons necessarily. So having someone to communicate back and forth , um , you know , is really important. The thing with Brian's case was that there were a lot of legal hurdles that we had to jump through before we could get to the substantive hearing. And so I don't think there's anything the family could have done that would have changed that. I mean , that was all really it was all what was going on in the courts , what was going on with the DA's office appealing the constitutionality of the statute , whether people like Brian were even eligible. So there were so many things that were happening that they did not have any control over. So really , to me , the best thing that a family can do in that situation is to support the incarcerated person. And that's what his wife was doing. And you know that you know that that's that's all you can do.

S1: Legal endeavors are tedious. They require extra hands to call people , write letters , part cars. Schedule.

S8: Schedule.

S1: Meetings , a ton of things. Lila and Vicky both touched on the important part community played in this story. Lauren is a local organizer from the Asian Solidarity Collective or the ASC. He's one of the people who showed up to show support.

S9: Also , go buy a toy. I'm a community organizer with Asian Saturday Collective , currently involved with the Freedom and Justice Committee. Interesting.

S10: Interesting.


S9: So try to just bring solidarity amongst us because , you know , together we're stronger and we can fight the oppressive system.


S9: When I when I jumped in , they they introduced me to the Freedom and Justice Committee. That's where I met Leyla Khalid and and those folks. And then they introduced me to Brian Mason's case.

S1: How did you interact with it ? With the court case.

S9: We did a lot of court support , went down to the courthouse during sentencing hearings and things like that. You know , just just to be there with him and his family , more supporting things like that. Yeah , that's that's why I came in and help whatever whatever was needed or asked me in a committee , you know , I try to do it what I can.


S9: Throughout the years that he's been in jail. Finally , now his case has been overturned and hopefully he'll be coming home shortly within this this next year.


S9: For sure , because I , I myself had just paroled out of the system a little bit over a year ago. And I see the changes that that were having laws and all that. So I knew change was coming and I knew it was going to happen. I never once doubt that we were able to set him free , especially with folks out here that are the voice for the voiceless in there. You know , I mean , this is the reason why I'm doing I'm out here doing work now because I know I'm not even supposed to be here right now having these conversations. Y'all still supposed to be in prison. But because somebody out here was doing the work , what led to me being home ? Now , when we in there , it's hard for us. It's like hitting a wall. And you I'm saying if we don't have nobody fight for us on our side , just doing the legwork , that's actually pushing the paper and making phone calls. If we have a voice on the outside here that's willing to to speak and yell for us , then it'll give them a reason to look. Okay , let's just this , this , this this person has a lot , a lot of support out here. Let's take a look at this case.

S1: That makes a lot of sense.


S3: We've been waiting for a while. So. And when you go to prison , the first place you go is something called reception. And it's really hard. That's where his mom died when he was in reception. And communication is hard. You can't have visits. And that's where all prisoners go when they first enter the prison system to classify them , to see where they're going to go for for the longer term safety concerns , all that. And so instead of going back to his regular prison , he went he went to reception , and that's when his mom , of course , passed. Now he's back at the prison he was previously. But now when you look on the inmate locator , it says his parole date , his first parole dated January.


S3: Mean ? Because he's like because he no longer has a life and youth offender. Parole was passed. You go to parole at your 15th year. Okay. Of course , that passed. Right. But they have to use that as a date. What I want to know is for the determinate , what is now his release date. Right. Because that January 2016 isn't helping me. It's not January 2016 anymore. Right. But we know that he's going to go up for parole very soon.

S1: Now that there's a little bit of distance.

S3: Being a victim , my boyfriend who lived in his community was murdered. And so to understand that feeling , I always have seen mom in court. And one of the things that also taught me is that victim services should never be housed in law enforcement because they will keep you for 20 years as traumatized as they can to utilize you in order for you to be the spokesperson for what they watch to do. And so mom came and spoke. And I mean , Ryan did say anything. He could have said a lot because they were the kids in the victim was 26 , giving people alcohol , drugs , having sex with minors , all that was going on in that room. Brian didn't say any of that. And I understand why. You know , because of his to the victim and all he did was show remorse and took responsibility for him. Even having a fight network him even not understanding what the repercussions could have been , being too young to even see that. But regardless , working on himself. So that could never , ever happen again. And being serious about that caused us to cry. So it's just that's what I learned and I'm grateful.

S1: For being black is knowing that sometimes getting a reduced sentence is the happiest ending a situation we'll get as a podcast episode. This ending is appropriately somber as a chunk of someone's life. It's remarkably tragic.

S11: Which is doubly disturbing.

S1: Being because this is an example of our legal system at work , and these words are still eerily fitting to describe it. Brian's going to be all right. He's smart , clearly resilient. The stories like this one play out frequently. Two frequently. So I guess the question to ask. Is what'll happen to the next Brian. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.

S11: Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.

S1: Thanks for stopping in. The Parker Edison Project is produced and hosted by yours truly , Parker Edison , and of course , the good people at platform collection. Be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode on Apple , Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any comments or questions , visit the Parker Edison Project or hit us on Instagram at the project. Chris Reyes is head of audio production. Lisa Jane Morissette , his operations manager , and John Decker is Associate General Manager for Content. This programming is made possible in part by the KPBS Explorer Content Fund. I love saying that because it reminds me of Sesame Street. Y'all stay safe out there.

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Episode artwork: Anne McColl
Episode artwork: Anne McColl

For our Season 3 opener we learn about a law that led to a young Black man wrongly receiving a life sentence. Grassroots activist Laila Aziz, Organizer Lon Chhay and criminal defense attorney Vickie Fernandes fill us in with the details of this calamitous case.

Music: Richie Williams.

Episode artwork by Liquid Sketch.

Show credits: Parker Edison (Host), Chris Reyes (Head Editor), Lisa Jane Morrisette (Operations Manager) and John Decker (Associate General Manager for Content)