Marie Mason walked into the federal courthouse in Lansing in her yellow jumpsuit, giving a faint smile to her family and friends, as she waited for a judge to determine her fate. Mason pleaded guilty to arson for her role in the 1999 fire at MSU's Agriculture Hall that caused more than $1 million in damage. She'll now spend nearly 22 years in a federal prison for the crime.
"I think it's a legally appropriate sentence," said prosecutor and Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank.
The judge called Mason a risk to society and believes if given the chance she'd commit extreme acts again. Mason was part of the group the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, and was responsible for a series of radical protests for years.
"It was the severity of the MSU arson and the danger that it created to firefighters and anyone who happened to be near that building," Frank said of the sentence.
No one was injured in the fire but the prosecutor says that was "pure luck." Mason was protesting genetically-modified crop research being conducted at MSU. She spoke in court apologizing for her actions, saying the fire was much larger than she intended it to be. Her defense attorney couldn't believe the length of the sentence.
"Frankly, I'm shocked," John Minock said "The sentence i think is grossly out of proportion to any sentence that's ever been imposed in a similar case anywhere in the country."
The defense will appeal -- arguing Mason is not a threat.
"She is not an evil or dangerous character. She's a very mild-mannered woman who has expressed a great deal of remorse for what she's done."
Mason will be lodged in the Clinton County jail until she is sent to a federal prison in the next few weeks.