June 26, 1985
Two men convicted of murder in separate slayings were executed
yesterday in Virginia and Texas.
Morris Odell Mason, who was mentally retarded,
was executed in Virginia last night for raping and murdering an
elderly woman and then setting her house on fire during a crime
Mr. Mason's execution was the 14th in the United
States in 1985 and the 46th since the Supreme Court cleared the way
for renewed application of the death penalty in 1976.
Mr. Mason's execution in Virginia's electric
chair was the state's third in eight months and fourth since 1976.
He was pronounced dead at 11:07 P.M., said Kathi
King, an operations officer at the State Penitentiary in Richmond,
Va. Mr. Mason gave no final statement.
''He appeared calm,'' the operations officer said.
''He walked on his own and required no assistance.''
Hours before Mr. Mason was executed, the Supreme
Court, by a 7-to-2 vote, turned down his appeal.
Mental Condition Cited
Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia, who met with a
group of clergymen asking clemency for Mr. Mason, said he did not
intend to issue a reprieve.
Mr. Mason's lawyer, J. Lloyd Snook, had argued in
appeals that Mr. Mason's mental condition was not adequately brought
out at his trial and that his mental impairment made the death
Mr. Mason, 32 years old, was sentenced to death
for the slaying of Margaret K. Hand, 71, of rural Northampton County.
She was raped and beaten with an ax; her hand was nailed to a chair
and her house was set on fire.
The slaying was part of a two-week crime spree
waged by Mr. Mason less than a month after he was paroled from
prison where he had been sentenced to 10 years for arson and grand
He also confessed to raping and murdering an 86-year-old
woman, raping and sodomizing a 12-year-old girl and shooting her 13-year-old
sister, who was left a paraplegic.
Morris Odell Mason
Morris Mason, a man burdened by mental
retardation (I.Q. 62-66) and mentally illness, murdered an elderly
woman during "an alcoholic rampage." A paranoid schizophrenic with a
mental age of eight, Morris Mason had been in and out of mental
hospitals for much of his life and had a history of violent acts.
When he was twenty-one, he began to hear voices in his head ordering
him to "do things, break things, tear things, and destroy things."
Not sane or mentally competent enough to stop
himself from hurting others, Mason was nonetheless just sane enough
and just intelligent enough to know that he was out of control. In
the week before the killing, he had twice sought help from his
parole officer for his uncontrollable drinking and drug abuse. The
day before the crime, he had asked to be placed in a halfway house,
but no openings were available.
After Mason was charged with murder, a state
psychiatrist who interviewed him found him "seemingly uncaring as to
his fate. He offers no complaints and seems to have no full
association [sic] of the gravity of his situation."
Morris Mason was executed June 1985. He had so
little conception of death that he asked advisors what he should
wear to his own funeral, and said cheerfully, on his way to the
execution chamber, that a visitor should tell a fellow inmate that "when
I get back, I'm gonna show him I can play basketball as good as he
748 F.2d 852
Morris Odell MASON, Appellant,
Raymond K. PROCUNIER, Director Virginia Department of
United States Court of Appeals,
Argued Oct. 31, 1984.
Decided Nov. 2, 1984.
Before HALL and ERVIN, Circuit
Judges, and BUTZNER, Senior Circuit judge.
Morris Odell Mason, a Virginia
prisoner sentenced to be executed on November 21, 1984, appeals
from an order of the district court denying his petition for a
writ of habeas corpus. We affirm.
The facts are set forth in
Mason v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 1091, 254 S.E.2d 116 (1979)
Mason assigns the following errors:
1. The District Court erred in
rejecting Appellant's claim that the trial court's refusal to
order an independent psychiatric examination violated
Appellant's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
2. The District Court erred in
rejecting Appellant's claim that he was denied the effective
assistance of counsel at and in connection with the penalty
phase of his capital murder trial, in violation of the Sixth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
3. The District Court erred in
rejecting Appellant's Counts I and II concerning the facial and
systemic unconstitutionality of the death penalty.
Mason's first assignment of
error is foreclosed by Smith v. Baldi, 344 U.S. 561, 73 S.Ct.
391, 97 L.Ed. 549 (1953) and Satterfield v. Zahradnick, 572 F.2d
443 (4th Cir.1978).
Mason's second assignment of
error must be rejected on the basis of the court's findings of
fact in the state habeas corpus proceedings. After a plenary
hearing, the state court found that Mason's counsel were not
ineffective at the penalty phase of the trial. Mason has not
established that the state proceedings suffered any of the
defects enumerated in 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254(d). Consequently, we
must accept the state court's findings. Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S.
539, 101 S.Ct. 764, 66 L.Ed.2d 722 (1981).
Furthermore, the state habeas
court ordered an examination to determine whether at the time of
the offense Mason was under extreme mental or emotional
disturbance, or whether his capacity to appreciate the
criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the
requirements of law was significantly impaired. The scope of the
examination was intended to elicit information about the
mitigating factors set forth in Va. Code Sec. 19.2-264.4
pertaining to a defendant's mental condition.
Upon receiving the report of
the examination, the state habeas court found no mitigating
abnormalities. It also found that Mason was not prejudiced by
any omission of trial counsel. These findings must be accepted
by us pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254(d). The absence of
prejudice is an additional ground for affirmance. See Strickland
v. Washington, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674
The claims raised in the third
assignment of error are barred because of Mason's procedural
default. Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 53
L.Ed.2d 594 (1977). We note that the statutes have been held
constitutional. Briley v. Bass, 742 F.2d 155 (4th Cir.1984),
aff'g 584 F.Supp. 807, 838-43 (E.D.Va.1984); Waye v.
Commonwealth, 219 Va. 683, 251 S.E.2d 202 (1979); Smith v.
Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 248 S.E.2d 135 (1978).
A certificate of probable
cause is granted. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
The motion for a stay is denied. Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S.
880, 103 S.Ct. 3383, 77 L.Ed.2d 1090 (1983). The clerk is
directed to issue the mandate forthwith.
The petition for rehearing and
for rehearing en banc filed by Morris Odell Mason presents two
I. In rejecting appellant's
claim that he was denied his right to the appointment of an
independent psychiatric expert to assist counsel in the
preparation of evidence in mitigation of sentence, the panel
failed to address an apparent conflict with this court's
decision in Williams v. Martin.
II. In rejecting Mason's claim
that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, the
panel improperly relied upon state court "Findings of Fact," and
overlooked an important aspect of the United States Supreme
Court's decision in Strickland v. Washington.
With respect to the first
issue, the court perceives no conflict with Williams v. Martin,
618 F.2d 1021 (4th Cir.1980), which dealt with the appointment
of a pathologist for which the South Carolina statute made
provision. In contrast, Virginia law made no provision for
appointment of a psychiatrist to assist the defendant. See Mason
v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 1091, 254 S.E.2d 116 (1979).
Smith v. Baldi, 344 U.S. 561,
568, 73 S.Ct. 391, 394, 97 L.Ed. 549 (1953), holds that a state
is not under a constitutional mandate to provide the defendant a
psychiatrist. The court deems Smith v. Baldi to be controlling
precedent to which it must adhere.
Elaborating on the second
issue in his petition for rehearing, Mason emphasizes that "both
the performance and the prejudice components of the
ineffectiveness inquiry are mixed questions of law and fact."
Strickland v. Washington, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2070 (1984). Putting
aside, for the purpose of addressing the petition for rehearing,
the question of the performance of Mason's counsel at sentencing,
we conclude that the district court did not err in holding that
Mason had not established prejudice.
As the opinion points out, the
psychiatric examination ordered by the state habeas court
established that Mason suffered no mitigating abnormalities. The
findings and conclusions of the state habeas court and the
district court satisfy the standards for determining prejudice
set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 104 S.Ct. at 2068.
The petition for rehearing is
denied. No member of the court has requested a poll on the
request for rehearing en banc.