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Killer pleads guilty in 2001 murder case
Daniel Lee Mason III

Thirteen years after the slaying of a Gainesville woman, her killer has been convicted of murder and sentenced in Hall County Superior Court.

Daniel Lee Mason III entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill to malice murder, two counts of felony murder and aggravated assault in the April 1, 2001, death of Crystal Star Barnette, 37.

He pleaded guilty to the charges on April 15, less than one week after being found mentally competent to stand trial. In a deal negotiated with the state, Mason will be eligible for parole.

He was arrested in December 2012 in connection with an attack on a 39-year-old woman on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Gainesville. Gainesville police investigators linked him to Barnette’s death after connecting the similar circumstances and victim profiles in the crimes.

Mason killed Barnette by “beating her about the head with a wooden object,” police said, and they said he had similarly used a blunt object to attack the second victim in 2012. The women in both cases were walking when they were attacked less than a city block from each other, and in both cases, police said the victim knew Mason, who grew up in Gainesville.

“The Gainesville Police Department conducted an excellent investigation in this case, finally achieving justice for the 2001 previously unsolved crime,” District Attorney Lee Darragh said in a statement.

Mason pleaded guilty in the 2012 incident as well.

The 41-year-old had been undergoing evaluations for several months. His attorney, Senior Public Defender Larry Duttweiler, said he had reason to believe Mason was insane at the time of the offense, which would have strengthened a possible defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the motion for a mental examination, Mason’s attorney wrote that his client had recurring mental problems including “numerous hallucinations” and “constant and reoccurring erratic and irrational thoughts and behaviors.”

The evaluation was also prompted by “increasingly hostile, aggressive, threatening, and assaultive behavior toward others” paired with a claim that he “is or was an attorney.”

Darragh said the plea of guilty but mentally ill does not affect the duration of time Mason will serve in prison. His first parole review will be in 30 years.

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