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JUSTICE MUST BE WON

Alabama/The Mobile News

 

Court erupts after judge's decision

Victim's family erupts after suspect is granted youthful offender status


01/11/03

By GARY McELROY
Staff Reporter


A judge's decision to grant youthful offender status to a man accused of shooting his teenage ex-girlfriend to death sparked a melee in a Mobile courtroom Friday.


Relatives and friends of Mesha Anglin, 17, erupted in anger and anguish following Mobile County Circuit Judge Joseph "Rusty" Johnston's decision, according to courtroom witnesses.

The Friday morning hearing before Johnston involved defense attorneys' efforts at obtaining youthful offender status for their client, 19-year-old Steven Mason.

When Johnston announced his ruling, 15 or so supporters and members of the victim's family and about 10 of Mason's supporters converged in the courtroom aisle, shouting curses and threats, according to witnesses.

Courthouse police officers were called to Johnston's sixth-floor courtroom at Mobile's Government Plaza to break up the confrontation.

Johnston's decision came after Mason's Mobile attorney, Arthur Madden, told the judge that Mason had no previous criminal record.

Mason was 18 in June, when he was accused of standing outside Anglin's Bay Front Court bedroom window, near the Brookley Field Industrial Complex, and shooting her once in the head with a .22-caliber weapon.

Youthful offender status means that Mason, who was charged with murder and facing a maximum of life in prison if convicted as an adult, will now be tried as a youth, with a maximum possible sentence of three years of incarceration if convicted by a judge during a non-jury trial.

Assistant District Attorney John Furman argued against the status, calling Anglin's June 1, 2002, shooting death "an atrocious crime."

Johnston told Furman, Madden and the crowded courtroom that it would be improper of him to deny youthful offender status based strictly on the severity of the charge.

At this, the courtroom erupted in chaos, witnesses said.

Apparently no one was injured in the 10-minute clash, and there were no arrests. According to one court official, following the hearing, Anglin family members were counseled by victims' assistance coordinators in the district attorney's office.

Johnston set Mason's trial date for Feb. 3.

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