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Mason Says He's Innocent

Friends, family and fans rallied around Charlotte Hornets forward Anthony Mason as he posted bail on sex charges involving 14- and 15-year-old sisters.

"If he says he didn't do it, I believe he didn't do it," said Ken Fielder, Mason's high school coach at Springfield Gardens in Queens. "I know how he is." Fielder said he has known Mason for 20 years.

Mason's brother, A.J. Kelley, also insisted his brother is innocent. "Anybody that knows them they know the (allegations are) false," he said.

Mason, 31, was facing formal charges that he and a cousin committed statutory rape and sexual abuse of the two girls. Prosecutors and detectives said Mason and his cousin, William Duggins, 24, an unemployed construction worker, met the girls during a benefit basketball game at York College in Queens on Friday night. The men are accused of engaging in unspecified sexual activity and sexual intercourse during the drive to Duggins' home in Queens and during a party at the house.

The Daily News reported today that the older brother of the two girls has told investigators that he warned Mason that the girls were underage. The brother, who grew up with Mason in Springfield Gardens, also told investigators that Mason asked the girls if they were virgins, according to the paper. The Daily News attributed the information to "a high-ranking law enforcement source." The brother was not identified by the paper.

Mason, who played for the Knicks before being traded to Charlotte in 1996, was in town visiting family during the NBA All-Star game break. He wasn't scheduled to play in the game. As Sunday night's game was starting, Mason and Duggins entered no pleas at their 20-minute arraignment. Mason posted a $20,000 bail set by Queens Judge Steven Paynter.

The bail was high because of Mason's criminal record, which includes a disorderly conduct conviction last fall. Assistant District Attorney Scott Kessler had requested $25,000 bail, but Mason's lawyer Frank Rothman insisted that his client would appear at his next court date on March 9. "If you have a satellite dish you can see him three nights a week on television. Where is he going to go?" Rothman said. Duggins' bail was set at $3,500. He's been arrested once on a minor charge, said his lawyer Edward M. Kratt.

The cousins were ordered by Paynter not to contact one another. The men offered to give blood samples for DNA tests to prove their innocence, but the offer wasn't accepted. Kessler, who maintains the men knew the girls' ages when they met, said detectives are examining bed linen and the girls' clothing. Mason's lawyer, Rothman, said the defense had "a neutral witness to shatter allegations" that the girls were attacked by his client. "They did not have sex with these girls, oral or otherwise," Rothman said.

At a news conference, chief of Queens detectives Jane Perlov said the two men have been charged with endangerng the welfare of a child.

Mason's supporters believe that this case is all about money. "It's a chance to hit the Lotto," said Rothman, who admitted no one has asked his client for money yet. Added Fielder: "People in the limelight are always open to these kinds of accusations."

Written by Anjetta McQueen, ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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