A disgraced former Ohio judge who was removed from the bench and served prison time for brutally beating his then-estranged wife in 2014 has again been arrested -- this time on suspicion that he stabbed the woman to death in his driveway.
Shaker Heights police officials on Saturday confirmed that Lance Mason, 51, was taken into custody following the death of his ex-wife, Aisha Fraser. They declined at that time to release further information, citing the ongoing investigation.
Fraser, 44, was a sixth-grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School in Shaker Heights.
“We are in deep mourning,” read a post on the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association’s Facebook page. “Aisha exemplified the best of Shaker Heights teachers: smart, amazingly caring of her students and her colleagues, active in her profession and in our association. She is loved by many.”
The association established a GoFundMe page for Fraser’s children, which raised more than $80,000 in one day. Fraser leaves behind two daughters, 11 and 8 years old.
The couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Audrey, has Down syndrome, Cleveland.com reported. The couple in 2012 opened a business, Audrey’s Chocolate Shop, to honor their daughter and earn extra income to help with the girl’s medical expenses.
A former babysitter for the girls told the news site that Fraser was a sweet woman.
“She loved her job, she loved her kids. Her kids were her whole life,” Kelli Glass said. “They are the nicest kids you’d ever meet. They are great kids. Adorable.”
A candlelight vigil was planned for Monday evening at Woodbury Elementary for the slain teacher, who Cleveland.com reported had worked for Shaker Heights Schools for 16 years. Later this month, a fundraiser in her name will be held at a yoga studio to benefit Cleveland’s Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center.
Officers responded to a 911 call Saturday morning from Mason’s home, where sources told WKYC in Cleveland that Fraser’s body was found lying in the driveway.
Sources told the news station that Mason attempted suicide after Fraser was killed. Sources also indicated to both WKYC and Cleveland.com that Mason struck a responding police officer with his vehicle as he attempted to flee the scene.
Court records obtained by Fox 8 in Cleveland Monday indicated Mason was driving “fast enough to cause multiple airbag deployments and disabling damage to both vehicles.”
Both Mason and the police officer, who was standing next to his patrol car when he was hit, were taken to a hospital for treatment. News 5 in Cleveland reported that the officer suffered serious injuries to his legs and ribs.
Fox 8 reported Monday morning that Mason had been charged with felonious assault for the injured police officer. Mason, who remained hospitalized, had not been charged with Fraser’s slaying.
He was being held without bond, the news station said.
The Shaker Heights school district canceled all professional learning that was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. They are also providing grief counselors for students, their families and school district staff both days at the elementary school.
“Aisha was a devoted mother and a longtime committed teacher to Woodbury students,” interim Superintendent Stephen Wilkins said in a statement. “She touched so many of our children’s lives and will be deeply missed. Her loss is unexpected and the impact of this news on our entire school community is unimaginable and profound.”
WKYC reported that Mason, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge who was removed from the bench about a month after the Aug. 2, 2014, assault on Fraser, in that incident punched Fraser about 20 times and slammed her head repeatedly against the dashboard of their car. He also bit her and choked her as he drove, Cleveland.com reported.
The estranged couple were driving back from a family member’s funeral. Their two daughters were in the car at the time of the violent assault.
According to a 911 call Fraser made, which was obtained in 2014 by Cleveland.com, Mason kicked her out of the SUV and, after beating her some more outside of the vehicle, drove away with the children.
Fraser, who feared for the safety of her daughters, begged dispatchers to find her children.
“I’m afraid he’s going to hurt my daughters,” a frantic-sounding Fraser said. “Please find my kids!”
Mason drove home following the attack, Cleveland.com reported. Though family members feared he might try to harm himself, he surrendered to police officers.
Investigators who searched his home after the 2014 arrest found smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a sword, according to the news site.
Fraser, who required reconstructive surgery to repair a broken orbital bone, was subsequently awarded $150,000 in a civil lawsuit against her former husband, WKYC reported.
Mason, who was also a former state representative and state senator, was indicted on charges of kidnapping, domestic violence, felonious assault, attempted felonious assault and endangering the welfare of his children, Cuyahoga County court records show. He pleaded guilty to the domestic violence and attempted felonious assault charges, and the remainder of the charges were dropped.
He was sentenced in September 2015 to two years in prison.
‘Working hard to be a better dad and a better man’
Mason wrote letters from prison in April 2016 to his wife and daughters, which Fox 8 obtained from the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts. In the letter to Fraser, he took responsibility for assaulting her in front of their daughters and otherwise hurting her during their marriage.
“My responsibility was to love and protect you,” Mason wrote. “Instead of loving, protecting and providing for you and our daughters, I have provided a terrible example and exposed you to rage and violence. Instead, I have caused great pain, insecurity and fear.”
He admitted often blaming his wife for his own behavior, saying he did not realize until the August 2014 attack that he “was broken.” He said he’d admitted his wrongdoing and repeatedly talked to their children, explaining how wrong it was to hit their mother.
“While incarcerated, I have continued to gain insight of my wrongs and worked to be a better man and father,” he wrote. “I know these efforts are not enough; they are inadequate.”
In a letter to his daughters, he told his “precious girls” that he missed them every day.
I know you are in pain, confused,” he wrote to the children. “You may be angry or feel abandoned by your dad. I love you and have not abandoned you. As I have told you many times before, I hurt mom and I’m being rightfully punished for it. I was supposed to love and protect mom and you girls. I failed you, your mom and her parents.
It’s not over though, I’m working hard to be a better dad to you and a better man.”
He told the girls he loved them and would see them soon.
Records from the Ohio Department of Corrections show he was released two months later, in June 2016, after serving nine months of his two-year sentence.
WKYC reported that, as a convicted felon, he was prohibited from serving as a judge again in Ohio. The state supreme court also prohibited him from practicing law.
At the time of the homicide, Mason worked at Cleveland City Hall as the minority business development administrator, the news station said. He was hired by Mayor Frank G. Jackson in 2017.
Jackson issued a statement Saturday in which he said city officials were aware of Mason’s arrest and that the former judge had been terminated, effective immediately. City officials were cooperating with Shaker Heights investigators in the homicide case.
“I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Ms. Aisha Fraser, especially to her children,” Jackson said.
Fox 8 reported Monday that Jackson stood by his hiring of Mason following his prison stint, saying he had no way to predict the future. He also stood by his policy of giving people second chances.
“We’re gonna look at it as a policy. Our policy is second chances unless there is something that would prevent us from doing it,” Jackson told the news station. “For example, you wouldn’t hire a convicted felon and put them around children. You wouldn’t hire an embezzler and put them in the finance department.”
WKYC reported in 2015 that Mason and Fraser were married in 2005. They separated in March 2014, five months before the assault for which Mason went to prison.
Fraser filed for divorce a couple of days after her estranged husband’s arrest, citing extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty, the news station said. The divorce was finalized in November 2015.