From the kibbutz to a US super-max prison: who is murderer Danny Mason?

Danny Mason is serving two life sentences for murdering a man and a dog and trying to kill another man.

 Handcuffed hands rest on prison bars. (Illustrative) (photo credit: MATTHEW HENRY)
Handcuffed hands rest on prison bars. (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MATTHEW HENRY)

Prisoner Danny Mason, kibbutz member and former soldier in the IDF's navy, has been serving two life sentences in the Souza-Baranowski prison in Massachusetts for 20 years.

The prison is a super-max where Mason is serving a sentence for murder after he was arrested at the age of 35 in the lab of the Boston medical school he was learning in weeks before he was to become a doctor.

Mason, who is now 56 years old, has been in prison for 21 years. His health has gone downhill lately after he suffered a heart condition. On Yom Kippur, Mason underwent complex heart surgery after which he was returned to prison, and his family claims he's being held in bad conditions.

Mason was born in Worcester, only 40 km away from where he is now spending the rest of his life. He made aliyah with his mother when he was 13. He was educated in Israel, served in the IDF and then returned to the US where he got closer to Judaism. 

What did Mason do to get two life sentences?

Gun [illustrative] 370 (credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri )Gun [illustrative] 370 (credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri )

Mason was found guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and animal cruelty which took place on March 2, 2001 in the early hours of the morning. Mason, clad in a black hat, dark long raincoat and carrying two guns, climbed the stairs to a rented apartment where two roommates were sleeping - Michael Lenz, a 25-year-old beginning poet and Mason's target, Gene Yazgur aged 28.

Mason enter Lenz's room first and shot him. Yazgur woke up from the gunshot and tried to close his bedroom door, but Mason kicked it open and shot him. He then alternated between shooting at each of the two men and their dog Simpson and only left when Yazgur pretended to be dead. Lenz was shot in his head, chest and arm and died two hours later.

Yazgur, who had been hit by bullets to his face, back, arms and thigh, somehow survived and managed to call the police. However, because of the bullet to his face, the 911 operator couldn't understand the address, and the police was only able to find them thanks to the help of a neighbor who had heard the gunshots.

Yazgur was rushed to hospital and underwent many surgeries and woke up two-and-a-half weeks later. Simpson did not survive, causing Mason to be charged with animal cruelty on top of the murder and attempted murder charges.

The guns were never found. The case against Mason was circumstantial and based mainly on the grudge he had against Yazgur who had sued him a few years previously. Mason owed Yazgur more than $100,000 which he had to pay or he would go to prison.

Yazgur had sued Mason in 1997 after Mason attacked him with a knife because Yazgur was blocking traffic. In addition to 18 months in prison, Mason had been ordered to pay Yazgur compensation of $118,000. Yazgur's attorney testified that at the sentencing, he hear Mason tell Yazgur that he wouldn't see a penny of the money.

J.D. Smith, Mason's roommate, described Mason as unusually generous, intelligent and able to converse on a variety of topics. However, he testified that on the morning of the shooting, he heard Mason say that he would kill Yazgur before giving him a single cent.

A gavel in a court of law (credit: REUTERS)A gavel in a court of law (credit: REUTERS)

In a documentary about the affair, Smith recounted how the next morning, Mason returned his hat to him which he had borrowed without asking and had asked if Smith knew how to melt a gun. He had a feeling that something bad had happened, and when he read in the paper about the shooting, he called the police and told them what he knew. He also told them where to find Mason.

In the trial, Yazgur testified that the shooter had been a man of similar build to Mason, but he hadn't seen the shooter's face. Another witness said he had seen a man walking near the victims' building that morning and confirmed that the clothes seized by police in Mason's apartment matched the clothes he saw.

Less than an hour after the shooting, Mason got in a minor car accident when he hit the car in front of him and refused to give his details to the other driver. His coworkers said he was acting weird at work that day, and Smith testified that Mason had asked him to say that he had never left the apartment that night and had never seen any weapons in the apartment.

"Our lives have changed forever," wrote Lenz's parents, Rob and Kathy in a message to the trial. They told the media that they had no doubt that Mason had murdered their son.

"When we think about what [Lenz] achieved in his short life, we can only imagine what lay in store for his future."

Rob and Kathy Lenz

Mason had a history of violent behavior. While in college, he had attacked someone at the gym because of a disagreement over weights, and a few years later he broke into the house of his girlfriend at the time and threatened to murder her. His former fellow soldiers also described him as hot-headed and said they had seen him fly off the handle on multiple occasions.

Mason wants to be transferred to Israel

For years, Mason has been requesting to be transferred to Israel to serve the rest of his sentence, but this doesn't seem likely because of a number of reasons, one of which is his constant conflicts with other prisoners.

"I am grateful for all your efforts, and if God takes me, it's really okay and maybe even a kindness because my existence is no life," he wrote to his family recently. "I am exhausted, and there are worse ways to go than to fall asleep and not wake up."

He asked to be buried in Israel when he dies, and his family has launched a campaign to get him transferred to Israel while he is still alive. The campaign has received mixed reactions and hasn't gained a lot of traction.

The Foreign Ministry told Walla that it is aware of Mason's story and that the Israeli consulate in Boston has been in constant contact with the prisoner for two decades and is attentive to his plight.

Yazgur told Walla that the campaign to transfer Mason to Israel is ridiculous and greatly upsets him. "It's not going to happen. Period. If they ask my opinion, I will be opposed of course," he said.

He added that the people donating to the campaign "probably don't know the real story. This evil man murdered an innocent man in his sleep.

"He came to kill me, and he killed my roommate, killed my dog, stood in front of me and shot me in the middle of the night in my home.

"In the 20 years since, I have undergone 72 surgeries costing me millions of dollars."

Gene Yazgur

Yazgur, who is also Jewish, has other ideas of what to do with donors' money.

"All those donors should find a way to compensate Mike's family with their money or pay my medical bills. The people who are donating are detached from reality. [Mason] isn't going anywhere. He will die here, in prison."