It seemed that only Mason and co-
Which is what happened on July 5, 2011,
counsel Jose Baez, a Kissimmee criminal
defense attorney, and their team believed
in her innocence. “I was convinced that she
did not kill her child,” Mason says, “and I
had no problem defending her. She was
being railroaded. Crucified by the media
Mason refused to give up hope that he
and Baez and Anthony would walk out of
Courtroom 23 with a not-guilty verdict.
after nearly three years of investigation and
media scrutiny, more than six weeks of trial
and 11 hours of jury deliberation.
“I did my job,” Mason says. “We tried the
case and won.”
PART SHAKESPEARE, PART SOAP OPERA,
part Greek tragedy, the Anthony trial was
perhaps the biggest legal sensation to hit
the Internet. It was trial by Twitter and 24-
hour news cycle. People followed the trial
online and through text messages on their
On verdict day, the Orlando Sentinel
recorded a record 22 million page views.
Some 55,000 people signed up for Sentinel
text alerts during the trial and more than
75,500 people got the alert on July 5.
“Casey Anthony” was the fourth most
searched term in 2011, according to Google.
Mason didn’t ask to be part of this
firestorm, which was already under way
when he got involved at Baez’s request. But
he’s not the type to back down from a fight.
Born in 1943 and named for his uncle,
Three years in Southeast Asia convinced
James S. Cheney, an Air Force pilot and
judge advocate general, Mason was scrappy
from a young age. By 15, his parents had
split up and he was essentially homeless
and supporting himself. In his senior year
of high school, he dropped out, he explains,
“because I was bored to tears—and hungry.”
Mason being young and cocky, and this
being the 1960s, he enlisted in the military.
“I could not allow them to have a war
without inviting me,” he says.
him that the military was not his calling.
Back home, he opted for higher education
at the University of Florida. Entering
law school in March 1968, he met fellow
attorney-to-be Donald Lykkebak, and thus
began one of his most enduring friendships.
Still colleagues, they share a suite
of offices with a few other attorneys in
downtown Orlando. In addition to criminal
defense work, Mason practices marital
and family law, with a focus on complex
contested divorce litigation, especially for
“He’s one of a small handful of people
to get a call when important people get in
trouble,” Lykkebak says.
Mason is a frequent guest lecturer at
bar and legal association meetings and—
despite his antipathy for some members
of the media—is often asked to provide
commentary on legal issues. He also is
a member of the National Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers and in
2004 received the organization’s most
prestigious honor, the Robert C. Heeney
Mason, Lykkebak says, has become a
sought-after defense attorney for three
reasons: reputation, preparation and
“If he’s in town and it’s a workday, he’s
in the office,” Lykkebak says. On Monday
holidays, when everyone else is off, he’s at
his desk, as is Lykkebak.
In the courtroom, Mason has a strong
“If you have points to make, having a big
personality means you’re more likely to be
successful,” Lykkebak says. “Presence is what
we are talking about, an outgoing charm …
while at the same commanding respect.”
THEN THERE WAS THE FINGER SEEN
around the world.
After the verdict was announced, Mason,
Baez, the legal team and other supporters
went across the street to celebrate at an
Orlando restaurant. A crowd gathered
outside, yelling their displeasure.
Mason turned and, through the window,
gave a middle-finger salute. The moment
was captured by an Associated Press
Here’s the back story, according to
Mason: He and his associates were
repeatedly harassed by a stalker as
they made their way to and from the
courthouse. One day, about three weeks
before the end of the trial, the stalker
made rude, sexual remarks to the female
members of the legal team.
“I had to be restrained from beating
his ass in the middle of Orange Avenue,”
Come verdict day, the stalker was part of
the crowd outside. Mason looked over, saw
the guy and expressed himself.
The gesture was intended for the
stalker, Mason says. The slightly grainy
photo, with or without pixilation of the
offending digit, showed up in newspapers
and on websites everywhere.
Would he do the same again? Probably.
One thing he’d do differently: “I should
have copyrighted [the photo] and sold it on
eBay and made a lot of money.”
ORLANDO ATTORNEY TOM EQUELS CALLS
Mason “the consummate trial lawyer. ...
In talking to a jury, no one’s better than
Cheney. He has a great sense of what
people listen to and how they respond.”
The two Vietnam vets met nearly 20
years ago when they were on opposing
sides of a civil case involving insurance
fraud and civil racketeering. Mason later
hired Equels to handle his suit against
music mogul Lou Pearlman over a legal
fee. Mason had represented Pearlman’s
label, Transcontinental Records, in
litigation with the Backstreet Boys and
*NSYNC. Mason and Equels won a
judgment of approximately $15 million
against Pearlman, and they have been co-
counsels on several cases since.
Mason’s other skill, Equels says, “is
NOTHING GETS MASON GOING LIKE A
that he looks at a case and, no matter
how complex it is, he can break it down
to components and key areas and see
how to win.”
In the Anthony trial, Equels says,
“Cheney kept his focus and established
that the elements of the first-degree
murder charge couldn’t be proven.”
Indeed, Anthony was found not guilty
of first-degree murder, aggravated child
abuse and aggravated manslaughter; but
found guilty on four misdemeanor charges
of providing false information to police.
She was sentenced to four years in county
jail but was released on July 17, 2011, for
good behavior and credit for time served.
death-penalty case, and Anthony could
have faced execution.