DA to seek death penalty in child stabbing

Mark Mason

HARRISBURG — Nearly a year after his death, "Markie's Law" passed the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary committee last Wednesday. 

Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence/Beaver/Butler) is the sponsor of House Bill 1855, named in memory of Markie Mason, an 8-year-old who was stabbed to death July 8, 2019, by once-convicted killer Keith Burley Jr. in a Union Township house following a domestic dispute with the boy’s mother. The bill would provide reform to the parole process for inmates who are violent while incarcerated or attempt to escape, smuggle contraband or intimidates witnesses.

The bill now moves to the full Senate after passing the House, 149-47, in December. The bill received bipartisan support, including yes votes from Lawrence County representatives Chris Sainato, Parke Wentling, Elder Vogel and Bernstine. Wentling, Vogel and Bernstine are Republicans while Sainato is a Democrat. 

“Violent individuals who are sent to prison and continue to commit violent acts while incarcerated should not be released on the streets after serving the bare minimum of their sentence,” said Bernstine. “These individuals are a danger to society, and the death of Markie Mason is a clear and tragic example of that.”

Burley Jr. had just been released in March 2019 after serving 20 years of a 20- to 40-year sentence for a 1999 homicide before he killed Mason. The bill is supported by Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

“Markie’s Law will hold inmates accountable for their actions while incarcerated,” said Larry Blackwell, president of the Pennsylvania Corrections Officers Association. “This legislation makes it safer for us to effectively do our job.”

Bernstine thanked Vogel and Lamancusa for their help on the legislation. 

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