ALAMOSA — Implementing a new fast track sentencing program, District Judge Michael Gonzales on Monday accepted a plea and immediately sentenced Wilma Mason, 46, Hooper, on forgery and theft charges.
The judge explained that normally he would accept a plea and order a pre-sentence investigation to be conducted by the probation department prior to sentencing, which would take a few months. However, he said, “I am trying to implement fast track sentencing in this district.” He explained he was trying to get defendants into probation “sooner than later” when possible so they could begin receiving services when necessary.
“This is brand new,” he said. “There may be some bumps in the road.”
The judge accepted Mason’s guilty pleas to felony forgery and misdemeanor theft involving the cashing of a postal money order made out to her neighbor last April. Mason will receive a deferred sentence on the felony charge and community service, fine and costs on the misdemeanor charge. She will also pay back the $600 in restitution that she took from her neighbor.
Mason received a deferred sentence, largely based on her lack of a criminal record. However, that would have changed significantly if a murder case against her had not been dismissed.
On October 3, 2016, Mason fatally shot Tony Alonzo Ferrara, 53, at her rural Hooper residence. Authorities initially considered the shooting an act of self defense, as Ferrara was allegedly threatening Mason with a gun. She also had a weapon and shot Ferrara.
The district attorney’s office later filed a murder charge against Mason. District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen told the judge on Monday that her office had had to dismiss the murder case against Mason because of proof issues. Since that case was no longer pending, and Mason’s prior convictions were minimal aside from a traffic conviction, Newmyer-Olsen recommended a three-year deferred sentence on the felony forgery charge against Mason.
“I think she should be treated like anyone similarly situated with similar criminal histories,” Newmyer-Olsen said.
Judge Gonzales agreed, telling Mason that since the more serious charge against her was dismissed, he would not consider it as far as sentencing.
Newmyer-Olsen and Mason’s attorney Matthew Schultz were agreeable to immediate sentencing on Monday. Newmyer-Olsen said the only question was who was to receive the $600 restitution, whether it was the neighbor or the U.S. Postal Service. Schultz said the defendant had no objection to paying the $600.
Judge Gonzales ordered $600 in restitution, granted a 36-month deferred sentence on the felony and placed Mason on probation concurrently on the felony and misdemeanor. Although neither attorney believed substance abuse or mental health issues were present in this case, the judge ordered evaluations for those issues and treatment if recommended. He imposed a $2,000 fine in the felony case but waived it entirely and waived $200 of a $300 fine in the misdemeanor case.
He also required 100 hours of useful public service to give back to the community. The judge said he would rather see people completing community service than in jail, although sometimes he has to put people in jail. He sentenced Mason to 60 days in the county jail but suspended the sentence as long as she is compliant on probation.
“The only way you would go to jail at this point is by violating probation,” Gonzales told Mason.
He told her if she behaved on probation, which should not be that complicated, she would benefit from the deferred sentence by not having a felony conviction on her record, as the felony would be dismissed at the end of the three years. If Mason violates the conditions of the deferred sentence, however, the court would enter a conviction on the felony charge, Judge Gonzales cautioned her. The felony forgery charge could result in a sentence to prison or community corrections of up to three years.
He told Mason that if she was having problems making payments, the probation department would work with her, but she had to keep them informed and do what they asked her to do.
He reminded her things could have been a lot worse if her other case was still pending. He suggested she move forward and have a positive attitude.
The judge also ordered Mason to either be enrolled in a vocational education program or working. “I just want you doing something positive with your time,” he told her.
Schultz said Mason would be starting work soon in the agricultural industry. He said this case was not one where alcohol, drugs or mental health were issues but was a financial situation where Mason “needs to learn better ways to deal with financial problems.”