Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Tuesday, June 6, 2000

MEDIA ADVISORY:

THOMAS WAYNE MASON SCHEDULED TO BE EXECUTED

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Thomas Wayne Mason who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Monday, June 12th.

Thomas Wayne Mason was convicted of murdering Marsha Brock and Sybil Mares Dennis, the mother and grandmother respectively, of his estranged wife, Melinda Mason. Thomas Wayne Mason was convicted and sentenced to death for the two murders in 1992.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

Evidence presented at trial showed that on Oct. 2, 1991, Mason traveled from his home in Tennessee, stopped at an East Texas pawn shop, and bought a twelve-gauge shotgun and three boxes of buckshot ammunition. On the federal firearms form he listed 113 Robinwood Street, Whitehouse, Texas, as his address. This was the residence at which Marsha Brock and Sybil Mares Dennis resided. Mason told the owner of another pawn shop that he needed a shotgun to hunt with, and that he was only going to use the gun one time.

That afternoon, Mason watched Robinwood Street from a "Chicken and Burgers" restaurant a block or two away from Brock's and Dennis' residence, waiting for Brock to come home from work. Rebecca Foshee, who was working at "Chicken and Burgers" that day, testified that at some point she saw Mason leave hurriedly, drive over a grassy area, run a stop sign, and drive down Robinwood Street. Shortly after Brock arrived at her home, Mason entered the house and shot her once in the head at close range. Evidence showed that Brock's skull was blown apart. Skull fragments and brain matter were recovered from several parts of the house. Mason then moved on to his next victim. Dennis was attempting to call for help when Mason began shooting her. His first shot into Dennis blew through her right forearm and entered her chest, knocking her to the ground. He then closed in on her and fired another round into her side.

Taresa Awtry, a dispatcher with the Whitehouse Police Department, testified that at 4:22 p.m. she received a 911 hang-up and called the number back, at which time she heard an elderly woman scream, "Help me. Help me. Help me." Awtry stated she then heard a loud bang or crash and a man say, "Hang up the phone!" She then heard the phone being dropped and a woman moaning and whimpering, and the line went dead. Awtry dispatched officer Jim Gill to the Robinwood residence, where he discovered the bodies of Brock and Dennis. Gill testified that as he approached the residence, he recalled that a "Check-in-Passing" (CIP) had been issued on the residence which instructed officers on patrol to routinely drive by and check the house. The CIP was issued on Aug. 14, 1991, after Brock reported that Mason had threatened to burn down the house.

Shortly after the murders, Mason called his nephew, Eddie Mason, and admitted killing Melinda's mother and grandmother. The following day, Oct. 3rd, Mason returned to Tennessee, called his daughter Tabitha, and admitted killing Brock and Dennis. He explained to Tabitha that he had used a twelve-gauge shotgun to murder her step-grandmother and step-great-grandmother. He also told her during this conversation that he wanted to kill Gary Brock, Susan Brock, and Mares Dennis, relatives of Melinda's with whom she had lived for a short time after her separation from Mason.

Later, on Oct. 3rd, Buck Mason called Steve Bartlett, another cousin of Mason's, who was a Memphis, Tennessee police officer. Buck explained that Mason was at his house and that Mason wanted to turn himself in to the police for the murders. Bartlett was instructed to come over immediately and come alone. Bartlett was informed that Mason had murdered two persons in Texas with a shotgun and was believed to still be in possession of the shotgun. Also he was informed that the homicide division of the Memphis Police Department was looking for Mason. Bartlett was directed by Buck to meet him in the pasture behind his house.

Bartlett testified that as he approached Buck's property, it was very dark, so he drove toward the pasture with his brights on. He made a U-turn and saw Buck emerge from the pasture. Bartlett testified that he was nervous about meeting Buck in the pasture and walking through the darkness toward the house. As Buck and Bartlett approached the front door of the house, Thomas Wayne Mason came outside with Eric Mason, Buck's oldest son, to whom he had also admitted the murders. Bartlett took Thomas Wayne Mason back to Memphis. While paperwork was being completed on his arrest, Mason commented, "I don't know what the big deal is, over just getting rid of a mother-in-law" and laughed.

The shotgun was retrieved from the pasture, along with a bag of clothing belonging to Mason. Blood scrapings subsequently taken from the shotgun matched the blood types of both Marsha Brock and Sybil Mares Dennis. Ballistics tests run on the spent shotgun casings found near the victims, two near Dennis' body and one near Brock's body, showed that the casings were fired from the shotgun purchased at the East Texas pawn shop on Oct. 2, 1991. In addition to this evidence, testimony was heard from Mason's daughter Tabitha, that five days prior to the murders Mason told her that he wanted to kill Brock, and then said, "No, I really don't want to kill her. I just want to cripple her, because I want her to remember me for the rest of her life--the rest of my life." Tabitha testified that later, while in jail, Mason said, "I'm glad they're gone."

Evidence was also presented that Mason was involved in an armed standoff with police on Sept. 16, 1991, two weeks prior to the murders of Brock and Dennis.

Eleanor Leggett, an instructor at the Mansfield Business School where Melinda Mason attended classes, testified that on Sept. 16th she observed police officers and a SWAT team in the parking lot in front of the Lake June Athletic Club, next to the business school from about 8:00 a.m. to about 2:00 p.m. She testified that she saw police officers escort Thomas Wayne Mason out of the building, and that she saw Melinda crying, very upset, and incoherent.

Kathy Gravely, a student at the Mansfield Business School, then testified that she was sitting with Melinda Mason on the steps "to the spa, which is right next door to the school." Gravely heard Melinda scream. Gravely turned and saw Thomas Wayne Mason beside them with a gun. Gravely testified that, after Mason confronted Melinda with a gun, Melinda fled into the spa with Mason in pursuit.

Todd Stewart, a police officer who was dispatched to the athletic club, testified that Mason was holding Melinda in a room in the athletic club and would not release her. He testified that reports were that Mason was armed, and that when he spoke with Mason at the door in an attempt to get Mason to come out, Mason stated that everybody had to leave or someone was going to get hurt. Stewart also testified that he heard female screams from inside the room in which Mason was holding Melinda. Finally, police officer David Johnson testified at length about the stand-off. He stated that evidence seized from Mason included a Colt .380 semi-automatic handgun, 55 rounds of ammunition, three loaded clips, and other loose ammunition. He described the scene in which 20 police units, a SWAT team, and media personnel were involved.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mason was charged by indictment in Smith County, Texas, with the capital murder of murdering more than one individual during the same criminal transaction. Mason was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty. The jury found him guilty on June 26, 1992. Following a separate punishment hearing, the jury sentenced Mason to death.

Mason appealed his conviction and sentence to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, which affirmed the conviction and sentence on June 14, 1995. The United States Supreme Court denied Mason's petition for writ of certiorari on Nov.13, 1995. Mason then filed an application for a state writ of habeas corpus with the convicting court on July 24, 1997.

After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the convicting court recommended that relief be denied. On Feb. 21, 1998, the Court of Criminal Appeals adopted the trial court's findings and denied relief. In April 1998, Mason filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division. The district court denied relief on Feb. 16, 1999, and later denied Mason permission to appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly denied Mason permission to appeal on Dec. 3, 1999, and denied Mason's motion for rehearing on Feb. 2, 2000. Mason then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, but it was rejected by the court clerk because it was missing an attachment. Mason's attorney was directed to re-file the petition with the attachment but has not done so yet.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

At the punishment phase of trial, the State introduced additional evidence regarding the hostage situation two weeks before the murders. Melinda Mason testified that Mason held a gun to her face and told her he was going to kill her, then himself, but he wanted to make love to her first. Over the five-and-a-half hours in which Mason held her hostage, Mason forced her into sex acts with him. During the ordeal, Mason repeatedly told her he would kill her. Melinda Mason eventually convinced him to let her go by promising to reconcile with him. During their marriage, Thomas Wayne Mason beat her and threatened to kill her, and prevented Melinda Mason from seeing her family.

Mason's first wife, Billie Jones, described experiences similar to that suffered by Melinda Mason. Jones testified that Mason beat her throughout their marriage, even when she was pregnant. Mason also prevented Jones from seeing her family. At some point in 1973, Jones took the couple's daughter, Tabitha, and moved in with her parents. Mason attempted to reconcile with Jones and, when she refused his offer, Mason pulled a gun and took Tabitha. Mason returned, with Tabitha, about two weeks later. When Jones would not go out to see him, Mason left and returned, without Tabitha, a couple hours later. Mason kicked in the back door to the home and pulled a phone out of the wall. Mason opened fire in the house, but was shot by Jones' uncle. Jones saw Mason and Tabitha a few months later, and again refused to return to the marriage. She did not see her daughter again for 14 years.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

No evidence was presented demonstrating that the instant offense was attributable to drug or alcohol use.

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS 06/14/2000 John Albert Burks (McLennan County)
06/15/2000 Paul Selso Nuncio (Hale County)
06/22/2000 Gary Graham (Harris County)
06/28/2000 Joe Lee Guy (Hale County)
06/29/2000 Jessy Carlos San Miguel (Dallas County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out,it will be the 220th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 56th since General Cornyn took office.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Katherine Hayes in the Capital Litigation Division.

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Contact Mark Heckmann, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050