BLACKFOOT– David Cannon spoke to local Rotarians recently about a case he had been called to defend. The case had become a cold case over the years and a random turn of events caused the case to resurface. Walter James Mason grew up as a professional bull rider and rancher. He was a championship rodeo rider from 1950 to 1960. When he retired at 47, to the area of Clayton, Idaho: he was quiet where the locals barely knew him. He kept to himself as a rancher and hunting guide.
This all changed on September 22, 1980, when he allegedly murdered Daniel Woolley. Clayton, Idaho considered a booming mining town at this time. The general population of was 40 at the time but now has around seven people still living there. According to witness statements, on the night in question: Mason had been having issues with his wife, who was the local school teacher, and had gone to one of the two bars in town to confront her. A patron Sweeney (according to reports) had seen Mason strike his wife. Sweeney and his son dragged Mason outside to cool off because he was wasted. Mason was a six-foot-tall burly, retired rodeo pro who was a rancher and hunting guide. Woolley had followed them out and punched Sweeney in the back of the head to get him to drop Mason. As a fight ensued, Mason had made his way to his truck to grab two pistols. He fired shots at Woolley and one bullet struck him in the head and one embedded in Sweeney's clavicle. After the shooting Mason had made his way to the other bar, grabbing one last drink, and then walked out of town before he could be arrested. There was an extensive investigation of the murder and over 23 individuals left statements with the officers. The town took quite a while to recover and due to the mine getting shut down, an earthquake, and the investigators leaving the area, it seemed like the trail had gone cold. The FBI even tried to assist in 1985 but there was little they could do.
It was discovered, this year, that Mason was discovered living in Texas under the name Walter James Allison. The tip was called in apparently by a relative and the Texas authorities came to arrest him. Mason answered the door and when asked if he was Mason he stated, "If you didn't know the answer to that question, you wouldn't be here would you." They entered his home and spoke about the alleged murder. Mason denied he killed Wooley in cold blood and it was self defense. The deputy noticed a gun barrel under the couch, which Mason was in reach of, and asked, "Is that thing loaded?" to which Mason replied, "Wouldn't do me no good if it weren't." Mason was brought back to Idaho to face charges for his crimes.
After being interviewed by Cannon, Cannon noticed that even though Mason was an entertaining conversationalist, there seemed to be some issues with his mental capacity. There was a motion to check Mason's competency and it was deemed he was not able to aid in his defense at the time. He was remanded to a secure facility to receive treatment. Even though he is 86 years old, there is a chance that the case can move forward against Mason, if he becomes more cognizant.
Cannon stated that even though one cannot plead insanity as a defense in Idaho, there are some other options available to mentally ill individuals. The insanity defense was repealed in 1982, which caused issues in many areas. This defense was looked at again in 2012, but was declined by the Supreme Court. Cannon explained the different murder degrees and by providing some background information on the Mason case, it provided some valuable insight into what the law deals with when it comes to mentally incapable individuals.