With the death of Aaron Bassler, the investigation moved from the woods where he eluded arrest for more than five weeks and turned toward the decision by three Sacramento County sheriff's deputies to fire without warning on the armed double-homicide suspect Saturday.
An autopsy confirmed that Bassler, 35, was killed by multiple gunshots on an overgrown logging road about six miles east of Fort Bragg, officials said Wednesday.
District Attorney David Eyster appeared in a Fort Bragg courtroom Wednesday and a judged granted his request to dismiss first-degree murder charges against Bassler for the slayings of a Mendocino land trust manager and a Fort Bragg forester and councilman.
“The sheriff is done with his work now that everything's over,” Eyster said later. “The District Attorney gets the final say on how this went down and I take that responsibility to heart.”
Eyster's office also will evaluate the exchange of gunfire that took place two days before Bassler was killed when he fired on three Alameda County Sheriff's deputies aiding in the search, he said.
Witness identification and DNA evidence linked Bassler to the two killings that took place 16 days and more than 25 miles apart, investigators said.
Matthew Coleman, 45, of Albion was clearing brush on a coastal ranch cared for by the Mendocino Land Trust near Rockport on Aug. 11 when he was shot at close range with a rifle.
Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo, 69, was patrolling timberland for marijuana gardens on Aug. 27 when he and another man were fired upon. Melo was fatally shot but his companion escaped, but not before recognizing Bassler, sheriff's officials said.
That launched the search for Bassler that brought in agencies from across California well as a Louisiana-based U.S. Marshals team. He was spotted Sept. 4 near his mother's house and on surveillance cameras, but managed to hide in the woods, stealing food and ammunition from cabins in the woods that he had roamed since his youth.