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Sentencing judge asks Governor to commute Derrick Mason's sentence

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Retired Madison County Circuit Court Judge Loyd Little wants the governor to commute the death sentence for an inmate who Little sentenced to death for killing a Huntsville convenience store clerk.

Retired Madison County District Attorney Tim Morgan, who prosecuted the capital murder case of Derrick Mason, called Little's action "cowardly" and "unprofessional."

Mason, 37, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Sept. 22 at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore for the 1994 shooting death of Amanda Cagle, who was a clerk at the EZ Serve Citgo at 1450 Sparkman Drive.

Little said late Thursday afternoon that his letter addressed to Gov. Robert Bentley was sent to Mason's lawyers in the New York City law firm of Baker Hostetler. The letter will be part of a petition that defense lawyers will file with Bentley next week, Little said.

Bentley will decide whether to allow the execution to proceed or to commute Mason's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Little said that Mason's lawyers contacted him late last week about writing the letter. He said he thought about it and decided to write the letter asking that Mason's life be spared.

"Years of experience and seeing so many other capital murder cases where it was imposed and where it was not imposed," Little said when asked why he decided to write the letter.

Little said he had been on the bench for six months when Mason came to trial in 1995. Other capital cases he presided over in the subsequent years allowed him to weigh Mason's case and sentence against them, he said.

In deciding whether to impose the death penalty, a judge considers whether the crime was "heinous, atrocious or cruel" as compared to other capital murder cases, Little said.

"I realized it really was not the right decision," Little said of Mason's sentence.

However, when he sentenced Mason to death in August 1995 Little said, "The most heinous, atrocious or cruel aspect of this crime was the execution-styled" slaying of Cagle. Mason made her remove her clothes and shot her at close range "while she sat naked and completely vulnerable" to Mason, Little said at sentencing.

Mason shot Cagle in the face at close range with a .380-caliber pistol after he saw that the first shot didn't kill her.

Little said during sentencing that Mason's crime was "extremely wicked, shockingly evil, outrageously wicked and vile and cruel, and with the actions of the defendant designed to inflict a high degree of pain and fear in the victim, with utter indifference to, or even enjoyment of, the suffering of this victim."

Morgan, reached at home Thursday afternoon, said the circumstances in the case justified the death penalty and that he strongly opposes commuting Mason's sentence. Morgan said every appellate court has reviewed and upheld Little's sentence and the jury's recommendation that Mason be put to death.

Bentley would be remiss to reverse a decision that was made on the facts of the case, Morgan said.

Morgan said he always liked Little but is upset that Little would make such a request now. "I find that disturbing and unprofessional," Morgan said.

"I find it to be kind of cowardly now that he's retired and no one has the chance to run against him," Morgan said.

Little had no comment on Morgan's comments.