Child sex offender free until sentencing
By PATRICK McARDLE Staff Writer | March 29,2007
BENNINGTON — A man who failed to comply with the Vermont sex offender registry twice in less than a year was released without being sentenced Wednesday after the state realized the case was being heard by a judge who had defended the man in court more than 15 years ago.
Arthur G. Mason Jr., 34, pleaded guilty in Bennington District Court to a felony charge of failing to comply with the conditions of the registry and admitted to a probation violation.
Sentencing was delayed, however, because District Court Judge David Howard represented Mason in court in 1991. Howard was a public defender at the time.
According to court records, Mason was charged with two separate charges, each a felony count of sexual assault, in January 1991. One of those charges was dismissed and Mason pleaded guilty to the other in July 1991.
In 1990, Mason pleaded no contest to a charge of sexual assault on a minor. It was not clear who represented him on that charge.
From the bench Wednesday, Howard said he had no recollection of the case nor of Mason but said the sentencing would be continued at a later date before Bennington County Family Court Judge David Suntag.
The sentencing date was not immediately set.
Mason was released on the same conditions of his previous probation, including a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Bennington County Public Defender Frederick Bragdon, Mason's current attorney, said he planned to ask for a sentence where the maximum and minimum time served was close together. He said his client had already served 30 days in prison for a previous failure to comply with the sex offender registry and Bragdon will recommend a prison sentence that doubles that to 60 days.
According to Bragdon, the felony conviction against Mason would have serious ramifications that would keep Mason compliant with future restrictions. He said he would expect the judge would also impose some kind of lengthy supervision through the Vermont Department of Corrections.
The state will ask for a longer prison sentence. For the felony charge to which Mason pleaded guilty, Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage said she plans to ask for a sentence of one to three years in prison. The maximum sentence on the charge is three years.
Marthage said she plans to ask the sentencing judge to revoke Mason's probation, which would require he serve the remainder of his previous sentence in prison. Marthage said the state will not object if Mason is ordered to serve the two sentences at the same time.
In August, Mason was sentenced to three to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to failing a requirement of the sex offender registry that he verify his address annually. Mason was only required to serve 30 days of that sentence in prison. For the remainder of the sentence, Mason was released into the community and supervised by the Department of Corrections.
The probation violation to which Mason pleaded guilty Wednesday was based on several factors. Department of Corrections Probation Officer David Jankowski said Mason's arrest and failure to follow the registry requirements indicated he could be a threat.
"This is the second time Mr. Mason has not complied with the sex offender registry law, which was intended for public safety. The public cannot be safe while Mr. Mason does not provide his actual residence," Jankowski wrote.
Mason was arrested earlier this month after police discovered that while he was listed as living in Manchester, he was staying in Bennington instead for up to five days a week.
Jankowski said Mason had not notified the Department of Corrections of the change of address to Manchester although Mason had notified the sex offender registry of the change in November. Mason was required to notify his probation officer within two days after he moved.
Bennington Police Detective Lawrence Cole said he was concerned because the Bennington home is across the street from Molly Stark Elementary School. Under state law, even though Mason is a registered sex offender, he is not restricted from living near a school.
Mason was charged with a felony in the most recent case because it was his second offense of failing to comply with the sex offender registration.
Mason, who came to court wearing a blue, hooded sweatshirt and holding a red baseball cap, did not speak during the hearing but sighed loudly before pleading guilty to the probation violation.
While the Department of Corrections had asked last week that Mason be held without bail, Marthage did not object when Mason was released without bail until his sentencing hearing.
Contact Patrick McArdle at email@example.com.