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Mason case raises questions about Illinois adoption laws

Mason case raises questions about Illinois adoption laws

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BLOOMINGTON — If Debbie Brock could change anything in her life, her 1992 marriage to Jason Mason would top the list.

After six days of testimony of Mason’s alleged abuse of three children spanning two generations, Mason was deemed a sexually dangerous person Tuesday by a McLean County jury. The abuse allegations involve Brock’s grandson, who lived with the Masons after he was adopted by the couple along with his brother; Brock’s granddaughter, who was adopted by another family member and who told authorities she was abused while visiting the Masons; and Brock’s daughter, the mother of the children, allegedly abused as a child by Mason.

Mason has been in the McLean County jail since November 2011 on predatory sexual assault charges but a decision by the state to seek a civil commitment to a state facility for sex offenders cancelled plans for a trial on the felony charges.

For Mason’s former wife, the trial was a road map of 20 years’ worth of damage Mason did to her family.

“I regret that I ever married him in the first place,” Brock said Tuesday after a judge signed the paperwork to transfer Mason to a state sex offender unit.

Courtship and denial

Brock was 32 and in the process of leaving an abusive husband when she met Mason, 12 years her junior, in Peoria in June 1992 after he agreed to escort her children to a public swimming pool. Mason and his sisters were at a mobile home park where Brock and her children were visiting.

Brock and Mason seemed to hit it off almost immediately and were married five months later.

Mason told Brock about a dark chapter in his life — a 1989 conviction for the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl.

The conviction was overturned and Mason accepted a plea deal in 1992 that avoided a new trial and a possible return to prison. Mason has denied he sexually abused any child, and said he made the admission to avoid a return to prison. He told police he may have had unintentional sexual contact during his sleep with one child in the McLean County case.

Brock believed Mason’s innocence claims and welcomed his interaction with her children. “He acted like a father to them,” she told the jury.

Adoption and accusations

Mason’s admission to sexually assaulting a child in the 1989 case did not dissuade Brock from adopting two of her young grandsons with Mason in 2009. Brock’s daughter, who has accused Mason of abusing her, admitted to the jury last week that she is addicted to street drugs and has surrendered custody of her six children.

Mason’s criminal past was not an issue in the private adoption approved in McLean County, where Illinois adoption laws do not require back-ground checks for adoptions of family members. Mason’s 10-year requirement to register as a sex offender had ended prior to the adoption.

Bloomington lawyer Alan Novick views the Masons’ adoption —which placed two children in the home of a convicted sex offender — as a potentially dangerous gap in the law.

“This case is the anecdotal situation that cries out for some sort of regulation,” said Novick, who handles adoptions and child welfare cases.

Family members are the first choice when a parent is unable to care for a child, said Illinois Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Karen Hawkins.

“Our goal is to keep families together and provide the support they need. When it’s not possible for parents to care for their children, we look to extended families to fill that role,” said Hawkins.

Adoptions of children in DCFS custody require criminal background checks, she said. Judges in Cook County order background checks as a matter of practice in private adoption cases, said Hawkins.

Authorities became involved in the Mason case in November 2011 after one of the boys told a social worker during a car ride to the library that Mason had molested him. The Baby Fold in Normal provided services to the family after DCFS checked on a complaint that the parents were smoking around one of the children who had asthma.

Deep devastation

In his role as the prosecutor assigned to handle child sexual abuse cases, Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Ghrist has heard many accounts of alleged abuse. The Jason Mason case may have caused the greatest harm in terms of what the children are still dealing with as victims of post traumatic stress disorder, said Ghrist.

“Without question, this case has the deepest rooted devastation. My hope is they will get to have a life free of the effects of abuse and they are survivors and not victims of abuse,” said Ghrist.

Brock hopes the two adopted sons removed from her custody will be returned, a goal she admits will take time and a lengthy court process.

A DCFS probe resulted in three findings of indicated neglect and abuse against Mason related to the sexual abuse of the two minors and the exposure of his second adopted son to sexually explicit material.

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