Man in prison for 2 homicides gets reduced term for ‘horrific' 1982 murder

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Although Garron Leon Mason will no longer serve a mandatory life sentence for killing a young mother at 17, the career criminal will die behind bars for killing a hospital worker when he was 32 and fresh out of prison.

“The fact is, you committed a very brutal murder and you repeated the same type of horrific behavior,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge George Buth told Mason, who appeared in court Tuesday, Nov. 1 for re-sentencing in the 1982 murder.

Mason, 51, has spent much of his life behind bars.

He literally got away with murder for nearly two decades before police were able to tie him to the Dec. 16, 1982, rape and murder of a young mother who was visiting family in Grand Rapids.

Mason was 17 when he broke into a home on Vries Street SW west of U.S. 131. Phyllis Jean Kruzel was there with her six-year-old nephew. Mason raped, strangled and stabbed Kruzel; her body was found in an upstairs bedroom. The boy, sleeping in another room, was not hurt.

Two decades later, police used DNA evidence preserved from the crime scene to identify Mason as a suspect. He was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison. That was upended when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory life terms for juvenile offenders was unconstitutional.

Buth on Tuesday re-sentenced Mason to between 40-60 years. It was the maximum he could impose under a re-sentencing law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in response to the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling.

Mason is serving a mandatory life term for the murder of Billie Jo Watson, a 22-year-old Kent Community Hospital employee killed as she walked home from work.

The Dec. 1, 1997, murder occurred less than four weeks after Mason got out of prison for a home break-in and rape in Grand Rapids.

Police say he grabbed Watson as she walked home from work on Nov. 30, 1997.  She was reported missing the next day. Police found her body on Dec. 4, 1997 under an Int. 196 railroad overpass east of College Avenue NE.

More than four years after Watson’s murder, Grand Rapids detectives asked the Michigan State Police crime lab to compare evidence in the Watson murder with Mason’s DNA. It led to a positive match.  He was then charged with both the Kruzel and Watson murders.

Mason is being held at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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