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Convicted Killer Ready to Die : Prisons: David Mason, who strangled four elderly people and a fellow inmate, says he has found a 'pool of peace' in decision to drop appeals. He is to be executed Aug. 24.

July 28, 1993|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN QUENTIN — Condemned murderer David Edwin Mason said Tuesday that he will go to his death in the gas chamber next month with a clean conscience because he takes responsibility for his conduct and feels remorse for his crimes.

During the nine years he has spent on Death Row, Mason said, he has discovered his own humanity and come to understand the pain he inflicted on the families of the five people he strangled.

As a result, Mason said, he dropped his remaining appeals and is ready to face the death sentence imposed by a jury and upheld by the California Supreme Court.

"I accept responsibility for my actions," Mason said in a 90-minute prison interview with a panel of reporters. "I believe in the death penalty. I believe in the most serious penalty for the most serious crime."

The 36-year-old prisoner, who strangled four elderly people in 1980 and a fellow jail inmate in 1982, is scheduled to die in San Quentin's gas chamber Aug. 24. It would be the first execution there since Robert Alton Harris' in April, 1992, which revived the death penalty after 25 years.

Wearing blue denim prison garb and speaking mostly in a monotone, Mason said he does not expect to back out despite 200 letters he has received urging him to reinstate his appeals and two lawsuits filed by death penalty opponents to block the execution.

"This is not about changing my mind," he said. "This is nine years of growing up. This is nine years of becoming who I am right now."

Mason harshly criticized what he called the industry of defense attorneys who file death penalty appeals to delay executions. He charged that attorneys use every possible approach to challenge executions--even using appeals they know are fabricated.

In his own case, he said, he was unwilling to go along with an appeal that called into question his mental competence, among other things. "I don't want to be an accomplice to that," he said.

Mason has said that he prefers to die in the gas chamber but would accept lethal injection if necessary to keep court challenges from delaying the execution. But debate over the method of execution seemed of little importance to him.

"I don't see how one way of dying is easier than the other," he said. "Dead's dead."

Mason, who was frequently beaten and abused as a child, said he grew up without a sense of love or a belief that he could be anything other than a criminal.

The death penalty was not a deterrent for him, he said, because he did not expect to live long enough to be executed--believing that he would die in a shootout with police.

"I didn't have a clue," he said. "I was running blind. . . . I didn't understand the pain I was inflicting on the victims' families. If I had understood that, that would have been a deterrent."

During his gradual conversion in prison, Mason said he learned of his own capacity to love--but he also came to understand what the death of his victims meant to them and their families.

"That's one of the ironies to me," he said. "Just at the point in my life when I appreciate my life, when I like myself, when I'm enjoying the time that I spend with my family--at the point it becomes most precious, I have to surrender it to keep that true, so I don't betray myself. If I do betray myself, then I lose everything I've gained."

Mason said he has written to the daughter of one of his victims to express his remorse and has found "a pool of peace" in his decision to accept his punishment.

"It's given me a clean conscience," he said. "It's important to my family that I pass from life with clean hands, straight eyes, pure heart--that I don't go out full of hate and anger."

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