By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
At Fowler's urging, the officer phoned the judge assigned to hear Mason's case and was told he would not approve release of the prisoner. If Dallas wanted Mason, the judge said, it would have to first get approval from the prosecutor. Thus the next call went to Harris County Assistant District Attorney Karen McAshen. "Fortunately," Fowler recalled, "she was still in her office. I explained that I wasn't authorized to give her any details but assured her as best I could that we needed Mason very badly. I asked her to try and persuade the judge to pass the case to a later court date.
"She was a little miffed by the fact I wouldn't explain what was going on, but finally agreed to call the judge." By late in the afternoon the judge had signed off on the release.
When Mason was brought down from his jail cell, Fowler didn't immediately recognize him. He had shaved off his goatee and no longer wore his hair in an Afro, obviously preparing himself for the lineup appearance Kinne had warned of just two days earlier.
They drove non-stop to Dallas, arriving shortly past one in the morning. Mason was booked, not as a suspect in the Balch Springs robbery, but on the warrants for the Houston offenses for which he'd already been arrested.
While Fowler had been in Houston, Kinne had managed to locate two of the five witnesses who had identified Geter as the Balch Springs robber and asked that they view a lineup. Helga Boone, the manager of the restaurant, had pointed to Geter during his trial, insisting that she would never forget his eyes. Mike Tallant had also identified Geter, insisting that the robber had a goatee at the time and that Tallant had "looked down" on the gunman. Though Geter's attorney had pointed out that his client was, in fact, taller than Tallant, the witness had stuck firmly to his story.
In addition to having each man step forward for viewing, Fowler had each of them speak words that witnesses had said they heard during the robbery. "They had said the robber said something like, 'Take your time,' to the person who was opening the safe," he said, "and then, just before leaving, he'd said, 'Don't follow me outside. I've got a partner out there who will blow your head off.'" According to the Houston reports, Mason had said much the same thing in each of the robberies he was charged with committing there.
Boone quickly identified Mason as the man who had robbed her restaurant and later told Kinne that she could not believe she had made such a mistake when she pointed out Geter. "She said there was no doubt in her mind that Curtis Mason was the man who pulled the holdup," Kinne said.
Tallant, meanwhile, positively identified one of the "fillers" in the lineup.
By Tuesday night, Kinne had located the other three witnesses who were living in Arkansas and was having them flown to Dallas. The following day all three, including Juan Vargas Jr., who had previously testified that he had had the best opportunity to view the robber at the time of the crime, quickly picked Mason from the lineup.
Kinne, who had been on hand to view the procedure, looked at Fowler. "It's time to tell the boss what we've got," he said.
It was late in the morning when the assistant district attorney entered Wade's office and outlined the new evidence that Fowler had gathered. Scheduled to speak at a service club luncheon, Wade instructed his assistant to put everything he had in a memorandum and have it on his desk by the time he returned. For the next hour, Kinne and Fowler worked to outline the case they had built against Mason and had Wade's secretary type it. Even as she typed, Wade called in to ask if the report had been completed.
Upon his return, he read the memo and summoned Kinne to his office.
"Norm was up there for 30 minutes or so," Fowler remembered. "I waited in his office and was surprised when he came back with a really discouraged look on his face. He just shook his head and said, 'He doesn't buy it.'
"I couldn't believe Wade had doubts. I felt we had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Curtis Mason was the person who had done the robbery. We were sitting there, talking about what to do next, when Wade walked in, holding the memo."
From the time Wade had first met Fowler when he was still on the Dallas police force, he had referred to him as 'Sarge.' The district attorney stood in the doorway for several seconds, frowning down at the papers in his hand. "Sarge," he finally asked, "what do you think about this?"
Fowler responded with a question of his own, asking Wade if he recalled a 1978 case of a Tom Thumb grocery store robbery in which a man named James Armstrong had been falsely convicted of and sentenced to life in prison. Then-police Chief Don Byrd, having received a convincing letter from Armstrong that suggested a store cashier had falsely identified him, had assigned Fowler to reinvestigate the case. As a result of Fowler's efforts, Wade agreed to grant Armstrong a new trial, and the case had eventually been dismissed.