CINCINNATI (AP) -- Prosecutors can again seek the death penalty against a man convicted of raping and fatally beating a 19-year-old woman in 1993 and dumping her body in an abandoned building, a federal appeals panel ruled Wednesday.
Maurice Mason, 49, had argued that prosecutors shouldn't be allowed to seek the death penalty against him because they missed a filing deadline after an appeals court threw out his death sentence in 2008. He also said that doing so would amount to double jeopardy.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with him Wednesday, finding that although prosecutors did miss a six-month deadline to pursue a death sentence against Mason, doing so was not enough to preclude them from starting the process again.
The panel also rejected Mason's double-jeopardy argument, saying there had been no finding that the prosecution had failed to prove its case at trial.
Mason's Columbus attorney, Kort Gatterdam, said he's weighing whether to ask the panel to reconsider its decision, ask the full 6th Circuit to hear the case or appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's the difference between life and death," he said. "The death penalty has to be off the table, otherwise court orders can sort of be ignored at will."
On Feb. 13, 1993, 19-year-old Robin Dennis' mostly nude body was found inside an abandoned building in rural Marion County. She had been beaten with a nail-covered board, had multiple skull fractures and semen was found in her vagina that forensic analysts said at trial matched Mason.
Gatterdam is seeking to obtain the DNA in the case for retesting.
He said although his client knew Dennis, who was married, he always has maintained his innocence.
"Obviously he's anxious," Gatterdam said of Mason. "He's facing the prospect of the death penalty and now it's getting closer to being a reality so I'm sure he'll continue to be anxious. But we're going to fight to prove he's innocent."
The appeals panel gave prosecutors a new six-month deadline to pursue the death penalty against Mason, who is being housed at Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, about 45 miles south of Columbus.
Marion County Prosecutor Brent Yader did not immediately return a call seeking comment about if and when his office will start the process of trying to get Mason sentenced to death, which would include seating a jury to decide Mason's fate.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman with the Ohio attorney general's office, which argued the case in front of the appeals panel, said that the agency is pleased with the decision but declined to comment further.
In a split decision, the same panel of the 6th Circuit threw out Mason's death sentence in 2008, ruling 2-1 that he had poor legal help during the sentencing phase of his 1994 trial.
The majority opinion said Mason's lawyers failed to interview his family and investigate "the obvious red flags" in state records suggesting that Mason's childhood was pervaded by violence and exposure to drugs in the home.
Such evidence can be used as mitigating factors and can win a defendant a reduced sentence.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP