Tougher Sentence This Time

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After rejecting an initial plea deal, Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced a Payson man with a long history of mostly petty crimes to 6.5 years in prison.

The Gila County Attorney’s Office had initially offered Zachary Levi Mason a plea deal that would have put him in prison for several six-month prison stints to run back-to-back, followed by years on probation.

Judge Cahill rejected that offer, saying that Mason damaged dozens of local businesses, used a stolen credit card, shoplifted repeatedly and even assaulted a detention officer. Given all the victims, the judge said he didn’t understand why the prosecutor’s office would offer such a lenient sentence.

Cahill and Superior Court Judge Robert Duber have for the past year skirmished with the prosecutor’s office about plea deals. Prosecutors say they need the authority to bargain with defense attorneys. Judges say they retain the ultimate responsibility for sentencing.

The county attorney’s office has started routinely steering all its criminal cases away from Cahill, which has forced the county to bring in visiting judges to hear cases.

Mason’s crime spree took place throughout last year, according to police records. Using spray paint stolen from Walmart, Mason tagged various local businesses, including the Payson Public Library and Sawmill movie theatre.

He attempted to use a stolen credit card to buy breakfast from Denny’s and then once in jail, Mason assaulted one detention officer and attempted to assault another.

When presented with a “minimum mitigated sentence” deal for these crimes in April, Cahill balked and told the GCAO to return with a more open-ended deal that gave him discretion.

On May 27, the case returned to Cahill for sentencing under a new plea deal.

Accordingly, Cahill sentenced Mason to 6.5 years in prison for three counts of criminal damage, theft of a credit card, fraudulent use of a credit card, two counts of shoplifting, aggravated assault of a detention officer and attempted aggravated assault of a detention officer.

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