Chapter Six

Jose Sanchez told Judge Redford he felt remorseful about the two murders and apologized for his crimes in court. He received a plea bargain for his testimony against Mason, which resulted in a fifteen-year prison sentence.

Two months later Judge Redford ruled that the trial could be covered live by newspapers and national television. The courtroom was packed with reporters and interested people, many not from Traverse City but from across the United States. The trial became a media event and was intently watched across the country by TV viewers.

Mason’s court-appointed lawyer requested a discovery phase before the trial began. The prosecution’s case rested on Mason’s financial status, Jose Sanchez’s incriminating testimony, a telephone call to Hollywood, and Rick Armstrong’s allegation.

The defense initially asked the judge to change the venue and dismiss the charges because of a lack of evidence. Mason’s lawyer also argued that because Jose Sanchez was an illegal immigrant he could not testify in court. Judge Redford declined to change the location of the trials or dismiss the case. He ruled that Jose could testify during the trial.

Mason’s defense had the right to determine whether the trial would be tried by a judge or jury. Mason’s lawyer requested a jury trial. Twenty potential members of the jury were selected through a question-and-answer process. Twelve people, seven men and five women, were named to sit on the jury.

His grandmother, Eleanor Rossman, faithfully attended the trial, believing Mason wasn’t capable of the two murder conspiracies. Only later, during all the testimony against him, did she come to believe his guilt. Then she sat demoralized, waiting for the trial to end and the jury’s verdict to be given.

As the trial started but before the jury entered the courtroom, Mason’s lawyer requested that some evidence be excluded from the trial. Specifically, information pertaining to Mason’s financial history and all the escorts he had been with before the murders were asked to be sealed from the jury. Judge Redford dismissed the defense’s request. The potential twenty jury members entered the courtroom. Narrowing down the jury to twelve people, the judge began the trial. He gave the jury its instructions and the actual trial began.

The prosecution began first with the opening statement. He told the jury a brief history of Rossman’s lottery winning, Mason’s financially troubled movie project, his meetings with prostitutes, and the murder conspiracy with Jose Sanchez. Money, according to the prosecutor, was Mason’s motive to have his wife, Samantha, murdered. He said Pamela had been an innocent bystander who arrived at the murder scene and was killed by Jose.

The defense’s opening statement started with the fact Mason wasn’t in Michigan at the time when the murders took place. Mason’s lawyer argued that Jose had confessed to Samantha and Pamela’s murders and his story about a conspiracy was tainted because he got a plea bargain deal, resulting in a reduced sentence. His client, the defense lawyer insisted, was not guilty of all charges.

Mason stared at the jury members while opening remarks were made by the defense and prosecution lawyers. He studied their faces, trying to determine if they were being swayed by his defense lawyer’s opening statement. The jury’s faces did not give any indication one way or another. He felt scared he was going to be found guilty and put in prison.

This trial is a horrible experience, Mason thought to himself. I know the jury is going to find me guilty. I had Samantha murdered and Pamela died too. I’m going to get a long sentence in prison.

After the lawyers were finished with their opening statements, it was time for the prosecution to present its main case through direct examination of the witnesses. The prosecutor called Mason’s financial advisor to the stand. He had been subpoenaed to testify and had flown in from New York City. The court clerk administered the oath that he tell the truth and nothing but the truth. He testified about the detailed history of the lottery money and Mason’s agreement to split the prize fifty-fifty with Samantha. The financial advisor also testified that Mason had spent all of his share of the Powerball jackpot prize and had gone totally bankrupt. In contrast, Samantha’s estate was worth nearly $150,000,000.

The defense passed on cross-examining the financial advisor.

Then an expert testified about the Hollywood telephone connection Jose and Mason had the day of Samantha’s murder. It was another important aspect of the trial and a damaging piece of evidence for Mason’s defense.

The defense only weakly cross-examined the expert’s testimony on the link between the murders and cell phone call.

Then the prosecutor called the star witness, Jose Sanchez, to the stand, and the clerk gave the former gardener the legal oath. Jose began his testimony, outlining how he had been hired to be the mansion’s gardener in the spring of the previous year. He stated the facts about his work mowing grass, weeding the gardens, and raking leaves. Jose testified about the offer of $1,000,000 and a Cadillac that Mason had made to him to kill Samantha. He told the jury that Pamela was just an innocent bystander, who got in his way while he was making his escape from the garage. The jury members listened closely to Jose’s damaging testimony.

Mason watched the jury’s faces as Jose told them about feeling guilty after the murders, and confessing to Father Fred. He couldn’t tell their reaction to Jose’s claims that Mason was the main conspirator of Samantha’s murder. Once the prosecutor finished questioning Jose, the defense lawyer could cross-examine the witness. The defense lawyer had dug up a marijuana conviction that was on Jose’s record from years ago. He implied Jose was stoned while working at the mansion and his testimony was tainted about the murder conspiracy. The lawyer grilled Jose about his plea bargain with the prosecution. Jose stood firm with his story that the plea bargain was a legitimate decision on his part for a reduced sentence. He cried on the stand while he was testifying against Mason.

After Jose’s testimony had concluded, the prosecution called Rick Armstrong to the stand to testify about the second part of the murder conspiracy charges. He was given the oath and testified against Mason. After Armstrong’s testimony the defense lawyer tried to punch holes in Armstrong’s recollection of his story, saying he was a criminal, but without any success. Then the prosecution lawyer rested its case, convinced the jury would find Mason guilty of at least one of the charges.

Once again, the defense moved to dismiss the charges against Mason because it failed to produce enough evidence for a conviction. Judge Redford denied the defense motion. The defense finished presenting its case for a not-guilty verdict and Mason’s release from jail. According to the defense team Mason had been framed by Jose.

The prosecution and defense lawyers approached Judge Redford’s bench and determined the final set of instructions the judge would give to the jury. The prosecution made its closing argument, stressing Jose’s testimony and Mason’s motive to commit Samantha’s murder.

The defense’s closing argument rested on the fact Jose had been possibly high on marijuana and motivated by a plea bargain to reduce his prison sentence for his tainted testimony. The plea bargain, according to the defense, made it necessary to give Mason a not-guilty verdict. The prosecution’s final rebuttal argued the point of view that the jury had enough credible evidence to support a guilty verdict for Mason’s crimes.

Judge Redford instructed the jury about the law that applied to the case and how to carry out their duties. Juries, instructed the judge, must be unanimous in their final decision. Then the judge dismissed the jury members to deliberate in an adjoining room and reach a verdict.

All the people in the courtroom waited in anticipation of the jury’s verdict. Tension filled the air. Mason sat handcuffed, talking with his lawyer about the likelihood of being exonerated by the jury. The defense lawyer didn’t hold out much of a chance for an acquittal. After one brief hour of deliberations, the jury came back out of the courtroom. Mason’s attorney knew the short deliberation wasn’t a good sign.

Here we go, thought Mason to himself. It’s judgment time for me and I know the jury will find me guilty on all counts.

“Has the jury made a unanimous verdict?” Judge Redford asked the foreman.

“Yes, we have,” answered the foreman.

“What is your verdict?” asked the judge.

“We find the defendant guilty of two first-degree conspiracy-to-murder charges,” said the foreman, reading from a piece of paper he was holding in his right hand.

The courtroom exploded with emotion. News reporters rushed outside to go to their offices to print the front-page story and report the guilty verdict on national TV.    Heartbroken, Mason’s grandmother Eleanor wept when she heard the jury’s verdict. The judge banged his gavel down and ordered silence in the court.

            Mason gazed at the jury members, feeling the sting of defeat. The defense made a post-trial motion, requesting Judge Redford to override the jury and grant a new trial or acquit the defendant. The judge denied the defense post-trial motion to overturn the verdict.

            During the penalty phase of the trial two weeks later, Mason said he was sorry and begged the judge for mercy. Judge Redford wasn’t impressed and reminded Mason he had shown no mercy to Samantha when he conspired to murder her. Judge Redford noted Pamela’s untimely death as a result of the conspiracy.

            “Mr. Rossman,” Judge Redford said, “you had it all and threw away your life. Because of your greed two young women are dead during the prime of their lives. You should be ashamed of yourself. I feel no mercy for you and am comfortable sentencing you to life in prison with no chance of parole.”

            The defense immediately filed an appeal to a higher court for a new trial based on Jose’s allegedly tainted testimony. Mason’s appeal was later denied by a higher court that found the trial had been conducted fairly. Also, the life sentence was appropriate according to the judges who addressed the appeal.

The trial was over. Mason, now a convicted murderer, said farewell to his grandmother during a jail visitation. The large and over-crowded Jackson State Prison. was where Mason would begin serving his life sentence. Jackson was the most notorious prison in Michigan.

Once Mason returned to his Traverse City jail cell after sentencing the other jail inmates laughed at him and said he deserved life in prison. They offered him no emotional support at all. Mason knew that trusting Jose to keep his mouth shut and not making a confession to the police had been a one big mistake.

I was a fool to think Jose would be silent about Samantha’s murder. How could I have been so stupid as to trust him to keep our secret? Mason thought to himself, upset with the chain of events leading up to his conviction. His was deeply disappointed with Jose for implicating him in the murder conspiracy, thereby putting him away for life without the chance of parole. Jose had ratted on Mason and he wanted him dead but now there was nothing he could do about it except wish for revenge. Without any money to pay for Jose’s murder it was unlikely that Mason could achieve his desire to have him killed by another prisoner.

Jose began serving his time in the Marquette State Prison located at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the shores of Lake Superior. Mason had to be content with only his strong fantasies about Jose’s murder and death in prison.

Mason cried in his jail cell, afraid of what would happen to him when he was sent to prison the next day. He was a ruined man and felt like committing suicide, but didn’t have the opportunity in jail to take his own life. Sensing his emotional state of mind after being sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, the local jail guards put Mason on a suicide watch. He had gone financially and emotionally bankrupt.

The convicted murderer entered Jackson State Prison shortly thereafter. Mason was told by the guards he had broken a prison taboo of having Jose kill a pregnant woman. All the prisoners at Jackson booed Mason when he entered the caged cell block and insulted him. They yelled at him that he would be killed and was a dead man. One black prisoner in particular named Jamal Damyon frequently told Mason he was going to be murdered soon by one of the inmates. Damyon was the “King of the Hill” and the most feared man in the Jackson State Prison. He bowed to no one. His talk of Mason’s death caused the new inmate to go into an even deeper depression.

While Jose Sanchez was held in Marquette State Prison, he became a deeply religious person. Jose prayed for forgiveness of his sins daily and always attended mass regularly. Jose feared he would burn in hell for his sins. He got a reduced sentence for his testimony against Mason and was released ten years later on good behavior while in prison. Jose was deported to El Salvador with his wife and family. His children only spoke English and faced a language barrier. He never broke the law again, and led a quiet life until his death, always feeling guilty about the murders committed by him.

When Mason was held in Jackson, he always heard boos and insults by the other inmates all the time. They called him a baby killer due to the pregnant victim’s death. With his life being threatened he found himself completely alone. Even the uncaring prison guards were extra mean to him. His face turned ashen white from the advancing AIDs infection and he lost a considerable amount of weight. He regretted not wearing a condom during sex with the escorts and Charlotte, wondering who had given him the deadly disease. Suffering immensely from his poor health, he was a broken man.

I’m in extreme danger here at Jackson. I’m going to die in prison. I know my death will happen shortly. Maybe I can still kill myself and get it over with. There is no hope for me, he often thought.

Mason never adjusted to prison life. Within a month he was approached by Jamel Damyon in the shower area. Damyon held a broken piece of a push-broom handle and appeared threatening.

Mason cried out, “Leave me alone.”

Damyon said, “You are a baby killer who had someone murder a pregnant woman. It’s time for you to pay the price.”

“Help! Help! Guards come quick! Jamel Damyon is threatening me with a broom handle. Come and save me,” yelled Mason at the top of his voice.

No one came to his aid. Damyon raised the broom handle like a baseball bat and hit Mason in the head. He fell to the shower floor.

“No more. Don’t hit me again. Please, no more. Have mercy on me!” begged Mason.

“Die motherfucker,” shouted Damyon raising the broom handle again and hitting Mason’s head. It sounded like a resounding SPLAT. The blows cracked Mason’s skull and spilled his brains out onto the shower’s concrete floor. Damyon showed no regrets when he struck Mason repeatedly. He continued pounding on Mason’s bloody head until he was sure the new inmate was dead. Then he tossed the bloody broom handle into the trash and returned quietly to his cell, closing the door behind him.

Dying a painful death in misery Mason wasn’t missed by any of the prison population or the guards who couldn’t have cared less if he lived. No one in the prison dared to snitch on Damyon, fearing his wrath. Despite a lengthy investigation by the Michigan state police, Damyon was never identified as Mason’s killer. The murder remains unsolved to this day. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Jackson State Prison Cemetery.

Mason, Charlotte, Samantha, and Pamela’s lives ended much like a Shakespearean tragedy, with no redemption experienced among the characters. It was not a happy ending to their unfortunate story.

Later that year, another judge awarded Samantha’s sickly mother, Alice, the nearly $150,000,000 Powerball lottery money, which included the sale of the Traverse City mansion, Mason’s Lake Michigan yacht, and his Corvette. Samantha had only spent a small sum of her jackpot prize, on gifts to her mother and the American Cancer Society. Alice died of lung cancer later that same winter. She had named Albert Oldfield in her will as the only benefactor of all of Samantha’s estate. Albert took Prince and Blue Birdie into at his home and cared for the two animals. Although he tried his best to comfort the puppy, Prince was never the same after his master died.  

The mournful man couldn’t spend any of Samantha’s money. He never overcame his grief after her murder. Albert believed they were soul mates. Years passed and the broken-hearted bachelor died a lonely death, forever in love with Samantha. He willed all of her money to his extended family and distant relatives upon dying. His body was interred next to Samantha Rossman and Pamela Spencer’s burial plots in the Grand Traverse Memorial Garden Cemetery. Six doves were released into the air after the final ceremony celebrating Albert’s life.

It was the final chapter of a tragic story about the lottery curse as foretold by the pale white ghost . . .

THE END