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Paynesville Press - January 9, 2002

Ex-Israeli sniper convicted
for murder of Michael Lenz

By Michael Jacobson

Michael Lenz in Ireland The verdict was guilty, to the relief of Robb and Kathy Lenz.

"Relief," Kathy explained softly in their Paynesville Township home. "That it was over. That he wasn't going to be free."

Attending the murder trial for their slain son was difficult, but at least it yielded a good outcome.

Lenz drew inspiration for his poetry from his travels, including this visit to Ireland (with a statute of one of his heroes, James Joyce) in the summer of 2000.

Michael Lenz, 25, a 1994 graduate of Paynesville Area High School, started in the Graduate American Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 2000. On March 2, 2001, he was killed by an early morning intruder who emptied 15 shots from two handguns at Lenz, his roommate Eugene Yazgur, and Yazgur's dog in their south Boston apartment.

Lenz had lived in Boston for only seven months when he was killed.

Convicted of his murder was Daniel Mason, 36, who previously served in the Israeli army as a sniper and commando and was completing his medical training from Boston University Medical School.

The murder trial started in early December and ended just before Christmas. Robb and Kathy Lenz, along with Robb's sister, Patricia, drove to Boston to attend it.

The trial was similar to what people are used to seeing on television dramas. "It's better that way," said Kathy, of watching it on television instead of attending in person because a loved one is the victim.

"The whole thing, going every day, was pretty brutal," added Kathy.

Mason was convicted despite a lack of direct evidence linking him to the crime scene, a point argued by his defense attorney.

"Everything was circumstantial," explained Kathy. "They didn't have any evidence that he was in the apartment. No blood. Nobody saw him there."

Mason's motive, his peculiar actions around the time of the crime, and his history of violence convinced Robb and Kathy of his guilt. All the evidence of his violent nature, though, was not allowed at the trial. "It was frustrating," said Robb, "because we heard all kinds of things that the jury couldn't hear."

"But...but...they didn't know this part," added Kathy, of things the jury didn't get to hear. "As it turns out, it didn't matter."

Robb and Kathy have no doubts that Mason killed their son, even though he apparently didn't know Michael.

The connection was between Mason and Lenz's roommate, Yazgur. Mason assaulted Yazgur after a traffic altercation back in 1997, and Yazgur sued Mason for injuries that he suffered. Mason was informed by the civil court that he needed to pay Yazgur $118,000 on March 1. The attack on Lenz and Yazgur occurred within 24 hours.

Key evidence at the trial included witnesses seeing a short stocky man like Mason entering and leaving Lenz's and Yazgur's apartment building around the time of the crime; Mason getting into a minor traffic accident on that same morning, heading from south Boston apparently back to his apartment in a north Boston suburb; and his peculiar actions that morning at the Boston Medical Center: his showering at work, not his ordinary procedure and his care for a couple of bags that he insisted on keeping locked up and eventually flew to Maryland, where his uncle lived.

Mason's uncle owned a Glock 9mm semiautomatic and a .38-caliber revolver that Mason was storing. A Glock 9mm was used in the shooting, while a .38-caliber revolver was one possibility for the second gun. Both guns were reported missing in June, so no comparative tests were possible.

The strongest witness for the prosecution in the trial was Mason's roommate, who went to the police a couple days after the crime with his suspicions. Mason's roommate, J.D. Smith testified that Mason told him that Yazgur would "never see a penny" of the lawsuit settlement, that he would kill him first, according to the Boston Herald.

Smith's suspicions were raised further by Mason's asking him for a fake alibi for the night of March 1 and morning of March 2, saying he had "taken care of some business," according to the Boston Globe.

Mason also borrowed a black hat from Smith. One witness saw a man of Mason's physical description, wearing a black hat, enter Lenz's and Yazgur's apartment building on the morning of the murder.

Robb said the defense attorney tried and tried to raise inconsistencies in his testimony but failed. "He was just so believable," added Kathy. "They tried to rattle him and they couldn't."

When it came time for the verdict, on Saturday, Dec. 22, the judge instructed everyone in the courtroom, both the victims' families and Mason's family, to avoid any celebratory displays when the verdict was read. Robb and Kathy shook in relief and cried as the verdict was read.

In their victim impact statement, which was read before Mason was sentenced, Robb and Kathy remembered their son's love of baseball, especially the Boston Red Sox, his love of traveling, and his passion for writing. While earning an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Michael received an award for his writing and was the founder of a quarterly publication of student writing.

His travels - to the west coast of the United States and Mexico in the summer of 1999 and to Russia and Ireland in the summer of 2000 - were fodder for his poetry. At the time of his death, Michael was self-publishing his first poetry book - Sympathetic Stone Age - as well as finishing to write a second book.

"Our lives have been forever changed," Robb and Kathy wrote in their statement to the court. "When we think of all he accomplished in his short life, we can only imagine what his future held."

Mason was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the required sentence for first-degree murder, and was given a second life sentence for home invasion and a concurrent 19- to 20-year sentence for attempting to murder Yazgur, who amazingly survived the attack, though he was hit by eight bullets and has needed 17 surgeries in the past 10 months.

"It doesn't change anything for Michael," said Kathy of Mason's conviction, "but it's good to know that he's not going to be on the street."

Robb and Kathy were grateful for all the support they received during the trial: from Michael's UMass classmates, from the court officers, from the prosecuting attorneys, and from the police. "It was pretty overwhelming," said Kathy.

"Everybody just kind of latched onto us and took care of us," she added. Michael's classmates from UMass would come for a couple hours when they didn't have class, and then leave as someone else showed up. They were never alone, they said.

Two memorials have been established in the memory of Michael Lenz: the Michael R. Lenz Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the Michael Lenz Graduate Research Award at the University of Massachusetts.

(Editor's note: Trial accounts from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the Boston Phoenix were consulted in writing this story.)

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