Murder Charges Dropped After New Suspect Found - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/18/04

Murder Charges Dropped After New Suspect Found

Mason in court in 2002. Mason in court in 2002.

We often hear about people being arrested, charged, even indicted for murder. And almost all of them are tried and convicted. But one man is now free after facing murder charges filed two years ago. Authorities in Emanuel County arrested Dr. Walter Mason in May of 2002 for his wife's murder.

The charges weren't dropped on a technicality. Prosecutors say evidence may point in a different direction.

From the start, Dr. Mason claimed he found Emily Mason dead in their home when he returned from a nearby store. But an Emanuel County grand jury indicted him and he's spent two years awaiting trial. The case took another twist Friday.

"We've received information that lead us to a second person of interest," said district attorney Steve Askew. "That person's name is Phillip Kirby. A hair found on Emily Mason's body has been linked to Phillip Kirby."

That link didn't happen until Kirby was convicted on his second aggravated assault this year and his DNA matched the hair.

"I want to emphasize that at all times, Walt Mason maintained his innocence had nothing to do with killing his wife, didn't kill his wife and obviously he's pleased the charges have been dropped," said defense attorney Bobby Reeves.

Both attorneys say it's rare for a case to go this far then move in another direction. "It is unusual to that extent, but you've got to remember the object of the investigation is to find truth not just convict someone," said prosecutor Askew.

Both the Masons were professors at East Georgia College in Swainsboro. No one there wants to talk about the uncertainty of the case. They just want Emily Mason's killer brought to justice, whoever that is.

In the meantime, Walt Mason must try to get on with his life.

We asked Askew when or if charges will come against Kirby. He says not a day before the evidence is ready.

When Mason was released on bond two years ago, he had to leave Emanuel County. With the charges dropped, he must decide whether he wants to come back.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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