One of two men convicted of murder in the stabbing and strangulation of 14-year-old Ashley Nicole Mason nearly two years ago was sentenced to life in prison yesterday, but a Howard Circuit Court judge left open the possibility for the man to one day be released.
Judge Raymond J. Kane chose not to impose the harshest penalty he could have on 23-year-old Frederick James Moore - life without parole - saying he was not "prepared to foreclose" on the possibility that the Baltimore man might one day reform himself enough to convince state officials that he is worthy of freedom.
Kane quietly delivered the sentence, which acknowledged Moore's participation in what he called a "horrible crime," after an emotional plea for justice from Ashley's mother and one for mercy from Moore.
"What happened to Ashley Mason was not my fault. I did not kill Ashley Mason. True, I could have prevented it" but did not, Moore said. He has acknowledged that he was present when the teen was killed behind a Columbia Pizza Hut on Nov. 3, 2000. " ... That, I will have to live with for the rest of my life."
But Ashley's mother called Moore an "evil, cold-hearted person," as she urged Kane to impose life without parole.
"Even locked behind bars, he can still breathe air, see sunlight, watch seasons pass and hear his mother tell him she loves him," Crystal Mason sobbed from the witness stand. "Ashley will never be able to enjoy those things. He took that from her."
Friends helped a distraught Mason from the courtroom after the sentencing. She later declined to comment. One of the prosecutors said she was "disappointed" in the sentence, which "shocked" Ashley's family and friends.
"I think if there were ever a crime and a defendant that justified life without parole, it's this one with Frederick Moore," said Assistant State's Attorney Kim Oldham.
Moore's defense attorney, Sheldon Mazelis, said he believes Kane "did the right thing."
"We hope that [Moore] will one day be able to return to society and be able to do something with his life," he said. Moore's mother also declined to comment after the sentencing.
Scott Jory Brill, 20, who also was convicted of first-degree murder in Ashley's death, is awaiting sentencing. A hearing in his case is set for Oct. 24.
Moore and Brill were arrested in December 2000, six weeks after the discovery of Ashley's body in woods behind the Pizza Hut at Route 108 and Bendix Road.
During the weeks it took investigators to make an arrest in the case, the slaying of the Long Reach High School freshman sparked community fear.
Ashley had been stabbed 34 times - severing the major blood vessels in her neck and fracturing her skull - and strangled, according to testimony at the men's trials.
Brill later told investigators that he had choked Ashley but not "all the way" and stabbed her once but "after she was dead," according to transcripts of police interviews.
Moore gave no statement, but his DNA profile was found on nylon hair coverings found near Ashley's body, and two witnesses testified that he told them he killed her.
Yesterday, Oldham told Kane that Moore and Brill, who had been at a party with Ashley before her death, treated the girl "like she was a piece of trash."
"And when they had no more use of her, they disposed of her like she was nothing," she said.
Crystal Mason echoed the sentiment.
"My daughter's life meant nothing to him," she said of Moore. "He could have put a stop to it at any time, but he didn't."