Former judge arrested after ex-wife killed

CNN's Athena Jones reports.

Posted: Nov 22, 2018 9:37 PM
Updated: Nov 22, 2018 9:52 PM

Lance Mason wrote a letter of apology to his ex-wife, Aisha Fraser, in April 2016 from an Ohio prison.

He was serving time for domestic violence and felonious assault for hitting Fraser and smashing her face into a car dashboard while their two daughters were in the back seat.

Mason, a former trial court judge, offered contrition for the "harm and pain" he caused their family. He pointed out all he had done to try to make amends, including counseling, prayer and accepting the court's punishment "without complaint."

"You entrusted me with your safety and the safety of our daughters. I violated that trust, and I'm sorry," he wrote in the letter. "My violence against you was the greater betrayal."

Mason left prison two months later after serving nine months. Now, less than three years later, Mason is back in custody as a suspect in Fraser's death and a northeastern Ohio town is mourning the loss of a beloved elementary school teacher.

Mason's lawyer in the domestic violence case has not returned calls or emails requesting comment. If Mason has a new lawyer, CNN has been unable to identify who it is or how to reach that person.

'There's blood everywhere'

Police say Fraser was fatally stabbed in the driveway of a Shaker Heights home on Saturday morning. Fraser was dropping off the children at Mason's home, her uncle, George Fraser, told CNN affiliate WEWS-TV.

Mason has not been charged with crimes directly stemming from Fraser's death. He is being held in an Ohio jail on one charge of felonious assault. Police say Mason rammed his car into a police vehicle, injuring an officer.

The Shaker Heights officer was responding to a 911 call to Mason's home reporting that Mason had stabbed Fraser.

In audio of the call, a woman who identifies herself as Mason's sister tells a 911 operator that her brother was "attacking" Fraser.

"We're going to need an ambulance," Lynn Mason is heard saying in the audio released by Shaker Heights Police.

From inside the home, where she was with the couple's children, Lynn Mason said she could hear Fraser screaming. When she went outside, she encountered a grim scene.

"He stabbed her. He said she's dead," Lynn Mason says on the recording, as a child screams and cries in the background.

"He walked in. There's blood everywhere."

An officer was sent to the scene and parked across the street from the home. An affidavit says Mason accelerated his vehicle into the officer's vehicle "while fleeing the scene of a homicide in which he was the suspect." As a result of an initial investigation, Mason was taken into custody, police said.

Shaker Heights Police and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office said Mason has no scheduled court appearance at this time.

The domestic violence incident in 2014

Mason was a sitting judge on Cuyahoga County's Court of Common Pleas when he was charged with eight counts in August 2014, including felonious assault, domestic violence, kidnapping and endangering children.

He had been on the bench since 2008, according to his personnel file. He was indefinitely suspended from practicing law in 2017.

Before then, he served as an Ohio state senator from January 2007 to September 2008, and previously was a state representative, where he served as ranking minority member of the House Criminal Justice Committee for five years. He was also an assistant county prosecutor for three years in the 1990s.

Fraser moved out of the family's home after the couple separated in March 2014, according to documents from Mason's state bar disciplinary hearing. They shared custody of the children and use of a car, and saw each other regularly at church and on dates.

Court documents provide the following account for the events of August 2, 2014:

The two were driving back to Fraser's apartment from a funeral for Mason's aunt when they began fighting.

Mason became upset and struck Fraser repeatedly in the head and hit her head against the passenger door window, the armrest and the dashboard. He also bit her on the face.

Their children were in the back seat, and the youngest daughter screamed. When Fraser tried to flee the vehicle Mason held her back by her hair. When she succeeded in exiting she fell to the ground, and Mason ran out of the car and continued striking her. He left her there and returned to his home with the children and placed a call to his sister, saying he intended to shoot himself.

Fraser was hospitalized for severe injuries to her face, head and neck, including a fracture under her left eye that required a surgical implant, the court documents say.

Mason pleaded guilty in 2015 to felonious assault and domestic violence in a deal with prosecutors, who dropped the rest of the charges in exchange for 24 months in prison and six months in county jail.

In June 2016, Mason's lawyer requested a motion for a judicial release that would set Mason free before his 24-month prison sentence was up. He included Mason's April 2016 letter to his wife, plus another one to his daughters.

"The defendant acknowledges that he can't undo the harm that he caused his family, albeit, growth and insight should be important factors when considering whether the defendant should be granted an early release," lawyer Fernando Mack wrote in the motion.

The court granted his motion and Mason was released on probation in June 2016, according to court documents. He was ordered to have no contact with Fraser.

In August 2017, the city of Cleveland hired Mason as a minority business development administrator, according to his personnel records. The city was aware of his criminal record and approved the hire with a pay rate of $45,000.

Mason's employment with the city has been terminated, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said Saturday.

Now, Fraser's death is raising questions about whether her ex-husband should have been released early. It has also drawn one of his past allies into the spotlight. Ohio US Rep. Marcia Fudge, a longtime friend and colleague of Mason's, wrote a letter of support for him before he went to prison.

"My support of Lance in 2015 was based on the person I knew for almost 30 years. The person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me. They were horrific crimes, and I condemn them," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"My heart breaks for Aisha Fraser. I pray for Aisha's family, especially her children, as they attempt to deal with this tragedy."

She was loved by many

Fraser's death shocked the Shaker Heights community, where she was known as a loving and devoted sixth-grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School. All schools in the district closed Monday and Tuesday and grief counseling was offered. A vigil was held Monday.

"We are in deep mourning. Aisha exemplified the best of Shaker Heights teachers: smart, amazingly caring of her students and her colleagues, active in her profession and in our association. She is loved by many," the Shaker Heights Teachers' Association said in a statement.

Fraser's uncle told CNN affiliate WJW his niece provided people with hope.

"As an elementary school teacher she just had a special gift in connecting with young people and teaching them," he said.

"She was pure love."

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