The murder trial involving a man who spent 40 years on the lam has been suspended due to concerns about his mental and physical health.
“The Court finds (Walter James Mason) lacks fitness to proceed in that the Defendant is incapable of assisting in the defense of this case,” Magistrate Judge James Barrett wrote in a decision issued Nov. 18. “The Court finds that the Defendant does lack capacity to make informed decisions about treatment.”
The decision delays a case that has already been on hold for nearly 40 years. Custer County prosecutors charged Mason with first-degree murder on Sept. 24, 1980, two days after he reportedly shot and killed Daniel Mason Woolley in Clayton, which is about 114 miles north of Twin Falls, over a relationship dispute.
Mason, 86, was not found until October when he was arrested in Eastland County, Texas. Deputies noted his age and poor health, telling their Custer County counterparts to be mindful of his frailty while transporting him, according to a previous Post Register report.
Willie and Brenda Ezzell, of Rising Star, Texas, lived across the street from Mason for more than two decades, but had very few interactions with their former neighbor, Willie Ezzell told the Post Register, describing Mason as “a pretty feeble old man.”
When they learned he’d been taken from his home, Brenda Ezzell’s first thought was that adult protective services had taken him in because she didn’t think a man in his condition should be living on his own.
“He’s in real poor health,” Brenda Ezzell told the Post Register in October. “He can barely get around, and his house was a complete wreck.”
The ruling commits Mason to the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for up to 90 days. Court records did not state the specific health concerns that led to the decision. Mason’s attorney, David Maughan Cannon, did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Mason must undergo an examination to determine if he may become mentally capable of proceeding. If the director of the Department of Health and Welfare determines he is fit to proceed, he will notify Barrett.
No future hearings are scheduled in the case. If convicted, Barrett could be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison and up to a life sentence, or given the death penalty.