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Murder Suspect Fights Extradition

South Carolina bars a test of Gerald Mason's saliva, but it's already en route to California.

February 01, 2003|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gerald F. Mason spent his 69th birthday in jail Friday as his lawyers fought his extradition to Los Angeles, where he was charged in the 45-year old killings of two police officers.

Mason's lawyer, Chris Mills, won a temporary restraining order Friday to halt testing of a sample of Mason's saliva that was taken by investigators during a search of his home in Columbia on Wednesday.

The restraining order bars testing of the sample until a hearing can be held next month on whether the sample was gathered legally. The South Carolina court order may be difficult to enforce, however, since the saliva sample was already on its way to authorities in California.

Mason was charged in the 1957 slayings of two police officers in El Segundo. He was arrested after police said they matched an old fingerprint from the investigation with Mason's.

Also on Friday, sources said that the search of Mason's home turned up evidence that Mason had applied for Belgian citizenship during the last two years. The source was unable to pinpoint the date of that application or its outcome.

That finding was viewed by authorities as a sign that Mason might have planned to leave the country.

Mills said Friday that he had not had a chance to review the document, but said he believed there is an innocuous explanation for it.

Mills had argued earlier that Mason should be released on bail because he stood little chance of fleeing a community where he was born and has lived for at least the last 40 years. Mason, a retired gas station owner, is highly regarded among the mostly elderly residents of the subdivision where he and his wife, Betty, live on the outskirts of Columbia.

Mason's strong community ties were evident during a hearing Friday as about 50 relatives, neighbors and friends filled a downtown courtroom alongside Betty Mason, who clutched a tissue and fought back tears.

Afterward, Mason's backers scribbled expressions of support and birthday wishes on notebook paper as his brother, Don Mason, made the family's first formal statement to reporters.

Don Mason, 58, said the family and friends were devastated by the allegations and arrest. He insisted that the charges cannot be true.

"For over 40 years, Jerry has been a loving husband, father, grandfather and a friend of this community," Don Mason said.

"Jerry's not capable of this type of behavior. This has to be a case of mistaken identity. We know he's innocent."

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