NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Crystal Mason, a mother of four, said she didn’t realize when she voted in the 2016 general election that she was violating the law. “I had no idea I was going to do something that was going to jeopardize my freedom again,” she said.
Mason was on probation after serving nearly three years in prison for tax fraud — and she didn’t want to go back. “There’s no way when the kids come visit me and I have to turn around and watch them leave, you couldn’t imagine.”
Now, she is facing prison again.
The 43-year-old is appealing Tarrant County judge Ruben Gonzalez’s sentence that would put her behind bars for five years for voting illegally.
A number of community organizations are now rallying behind Mason.
The President of the Next Generation Action Network, Dominique Alexander appeared at a news conference in Dallas Tuesday. He said, “The Next Generation Action Network along with a lot of community organizations as well as churches [like] Friendship West, the African-American Pastors Coalition of North Texas feel this is outrageous and we’re going to stand up.”
Kim Cole, a civil attorney was asked if the judge was mistaken and placed too steep a punishment. “I believe absolutely,” she said. “The sentence is way too harsh.”
Cole says the sentence shows there are racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
In a statement, Tarrant County prosecutor Matt Smid said –
“There was testimony from an election judge, a 25-plus year Navy veteran that he went over the provision ballot with Mason, including the portion to the ineligibility to vote and the penalty for doing so and she was affirmed to having read it.”
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said it offered Mason a plea deal with no jail time, but that she declined.
Alexander said Mason went to trial instead of accepting the deal because admitting guilt would have impacted her probation in the tax case.
While Mason received a five-year sentence, the second degree felony carries a penalty between two and 20 years.
Warren Norred, a former lawyer for the Tarrant County GOP, says he doesn’t believe the sentence is harsh. “The fact that the DA offered her a no jail time deal that she turned down tells us we still feel sorry for her, but this is a road she chose to go down.”
But Mason’s supporters have started a GoFundMe account for her defense and say they aren’t giving up.
As for Mason, she says this case has rattled her life. “It’s been a very big shock when you think you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do to rehabilitate yourself and show your kids no matter what happens, you can get back on track.”