25 years doesn't atone for cold-blooded murder
On Valentine's Day 1979, when most men were out buying candy or flowers for their wives or sweethearts, Steven Masters was buying bullets. Sometime that night, he fired five of them into his 19-year-old wife, Jodi.1
Then he set their Boardman house on fire to cover up his crime and went to a Laundromat to masquerade as a devoted young husband -- and to establish what he hoped would be an alibi.
Masters' crime was exposed, first by a coroner, then by an arson investigator, and then by detectives who established a motive. Masters was in debt, his wife was heavily insured, and he had visions of a comfortable life without her.
The story was told over 12 weeks in the Mahoning County courtroom of Judge Forrest Cavalier, and a jury of nine men and three women took five days sifting through hundreds of exhibits and the testimony of 74 witnesses.
When the jury had completed its work, it found Masters guilty of aggravated murder and arson, and Judge Cavalier sentenced him to life in prison for the murder and a consecutive sentence of six to 25 years for arson.
The sentence sounds more harsh than it is.
Masters has been eligible for parole for almost a decade, but previous bids for release have been denied. Now, just days after the 25th anniversary of the murder of his wife, it appears Masters may be given get his parole.
If so, it will be a travesty of justice.
The testimony and evidence on which the jury acted showed that this was not a crime of passion, but a calculated and premeditated murder. The fire that Masters set was a final act of disrespect toward the woman he had pledged to cherish and protect, a vicious act that added to the pain suffered by those who loved her.
Against all evidence, he maintained his innocence and, accordingly, refused to show remorse.
If convicted today, he would likely face the death penalty -- or at least a longer jail term before being eligible for release. Either of those punishments would be more appropriate.
Parole now, just 25 years after the cold-blooded murder of Jodi Masters, is an insult to her memory, to her family, to this community and to justice.
Ohio Parole Board documents read that Masters, who is 45 years old, "has now served almost 24 years of a life sentence. He has consistently obeyed prison rules and has used his time for constructive purposes. He is referred to a Central Office Board Review with a recommendation for parole."
A board made up of a majority of parole board members has 60 to 90 days to review the recommendation and weigh various factors in the case.
The choices he made
Let's hope the board considers this: Steven Masters had options Feb. 14, 1979. If he were unhappy in his young marriage, he could have sought counseling or dissolution, allowing both he and his wife to go on with their lives. If he had financial problems, he could have worked them out. He could have done the things that other married couples do as a matter of course when they are having problems.
He chose, instead, to kill his wife of five months for purely selfish motives.
He took her life without remorse, and now he turns to a parole board and asks it to give him what is left of his life -- potentially decades of freedom and normalcy.
The answer should be no.
Perhaps -- just perhaps -- he has been rehabilitated. But he hasn't yet been punished to the extent his sentence allows or that his crimes deserve.
1 The lead paragraph is a variation of a sentence that appeared in a Vindicator story five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the Masters murder.