Martinsburg man guilty in sword attack

June 16, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Lisa Pittsnogle's left arm bears the scars of the injury she sustained last year by a man wielding a sword in her Martinsburg apartment.

But what a Berkeley County jury of six men and six women saw in photographs this week in Circuit Court was a limb torn at the elbow and nearly severed from Pittsnogle's body after being cut with a sword that her assailant had wrested from her son.

The sight apparently was enough for jurors to find 19-year-old Terry Lee Mason Jr. guilty of malicious assault in the March 15, 2005, incident in Martinsburg that sent four people, including Mason, to the hospital.

In reaching its verdict, the jury rejected the arguments of Mason's attorney, Michael Santa Barbara, who maintained that years of alcohol abuse and a dysfunctional upbringing had rendered Mason incapable of intending malice upon Pittsnogle when he swung at her with the sword he had moments before wrested away from her son, Jimmy.


"I submit to you that (Mason) had no intent other than that of a caged animal to escape the place that he felt threatened," said Santa Barbara. "He didn't have the mental capacity to frame the intent to commit the crimes with which he is charged.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely told the jury that Mason knew what he was doing when he attacked Pittsnogle, her son and another man in her apartment.

"He was not a 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. He (was) a 17-year-old young man who knows right from wrong," said Games-Neely, who sought to dissuade the jury of Santa Barbara's contention that Jimmy Pittsnogle shared responsibility for the incident, for allegedly buying beer for Mason and for producing the sword that led to his mother's injuries.

"I defy any of you to say you can't protect your lives in your own residence," Games-Neely told jurors Thursday in her closing remarks.

Mason, who was 17 at the time and had a blood alcohol level of .22, according to police testimony Wednesday, suffered three deep gashes to his neck from a box cutter, after charging Pittsnogle's housemate, Olin Hess, according to court documents.

Hess, who testified he had been awakened by the ruckus in the apartment, said he reached for a utility knife in his pocket while grappling with Mason, who had swung the sword at him, striking him a glancing blow to the leg.

The jury rejected a lesser charge of unlawful assault by Mason against Hess, opting instead to find him guilty of battery, a misdemeanor for a wound the 61-year old Hess received when Mason bit his finger during their struggle.

Jurors also rejected a separate charge of battery, which Games-Neely sought against Mason for allegedly trying to punch Lisa Pittsnogle.

According to testimony by Jimmy Pittsnogle, the incident began after Mason had been invited to the family's apartment to drink beer and watch television, but was asked to leave by his mother around 2 a.m. because they were being too loud. In the hallway, Mason began to argue over a cigarette and then beat him, Pittsnogle testified.

Upon retreating inside, Pittsnogle produced a sword after Mason returned minutes later, kicking in the front door and throwing bags of rock salt, which had been sitting in the hallway, at his mother, according to testimony. Pittsnogle, who was unable Wednesday to identify Mason in the courtroom, said Mason took the sword from him after being struck with it.

Mason, whose sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 14, faces two to 10 years in state prison for the assault conviction, and up to a year in jail for battery.

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