Jury finds man, 22, guilty in death of Columbia teen

Moore's sentencing is set for April 11

February 02, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Frederick James Moore was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder in the stabbing and strangulation death of 14-year-old Ashley Nicole Mason, whose bloody body was found in woods behind a Columbia Pizza Hut in November 2000.

A Howard County jury of seven women and five men took 2 1/2 hours yesterday to return their verdict on the single-count indictment, bringing to a close a case that frightened parents and community members with its brutality and the uncertainty it spawned during the six weeks it took investigators to make an arrest.

A second man, 19-year-old Scott Jory Brill, was convicted of first-degree murder in Ashley's death in October and is scheduled for sentencing in front of Judge Dennis M. Sweeney on March 20. Yesterday, Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. set Moore's sentencing for April 11.

Both men face a potential maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As the jurors filed out of the courtroom after the verdict, Moore sat down heavily and rested his head on the defense table. The verdict left the 22-year-old man in shock, said his lawyer, Sheldon Mazelis.

"He just believed all along that he was innocent, that he did not do anything wrong," Mazelis said.

For Ashley's friends and family, the verdict was sweet, but anger remained.

"We're glad he was found guilty, but the hurt is still there. That doesn't change anything," a teary Crystal Mason, Ashley's mother, said after the verdict. "It doesn't change the fact that she's never coming home and he's still alive. ... He's still breathing."

Moore and Brill were charged with murder in December 2000, six weeks after Ashley's body was discovered behind the Pizza Hut at Route 108 and Bendix Road on Nov. 3, 2000. The Long Reach teen had been stabbed 34 times and strangled.

But for prosecutors, the case against each man was vastly different.

Brill had given investigators hours of taped interviews - saying, at points, that he had choked Ashley, but not "all the way" and that he had stabbed her once but "after she was dead."

Moore gave no such statement and Brill's interview comments could not be used against him.

So prosecutors built their case against Moore by linking him to as much evidence as they could. Witnesses testified that he owned the murder weapon, a knife, and Moore's DNA profile was found on two nylon hair coverings found a few feet from Ashley's body. Two witnesses told jurors that Moore had confided in them that he killed the girl.

Mazelis said last night that he believed those witnesses were crucial.

"The jury would rather believe those lay witnesses," he said. "In my opinion, it wasn't the DNA, it wasn't the police, it wasn't the weapon."

Throughout the weeklong trial, Mazelis admitted that his client was present during the killing but portrayed Moore only as a scared bystander. He tried to pin the full blame for the killing on Brill, calling him a "pit bull" and focusing on the fact that the 19-year-old was both heavier and taller than his client.

But the two witnesses said that Moore told them that he and Brill had killed Ashley together. One of the witnesses also testified that Moore had blood smeared on his Timberland boots and blue jeans after the killing.

"When we look at Frederick Moore and Scott Brill, we understand that there's a partnership in death," prosecutor Michael Rexroad said in his closing argument. "They were joined in malice. They were joined in murder."

Last night, Rexroad called Ashley's murder "one of the most tragic and difficult cases we've had in the county."

"It strikes at the heart of every parent, of every brother and sister and of every schoolmate to lose someone so young and so tragically," he said.

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