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Prosecutor crossed paths with Fort Bragg suspect, victim

As a veteran prosecutor recalled his dealings with both suspect and victim, and as reports swirled over a link to another homicide, Day 12 of a grueling, frustrating search continued Wednesday in the woods east of Fort Bragg.

"We want a safe apprehension, with nobody getting hurt," said Mendocino Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

Officers and deputies have been scouring a vast forested area since Aug. 27, when 35-year-old Aaron Bassler is suspected of gunning down forester and Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo on private timberland along the Skunk Train rail line.

Update: Manhunt In Fort Bragg Continues


Both Bassler and Melo were known to Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Timothy Stoen, the veteran felony prosecutor at the district attorney's Ten Mile office in Fort Bragg. Under a framed photo of endless stands of redwood trees amid a sea of chest-high brush on his office wall, Stoen reflected on the drawn-out search.

Bassler, who has been charged with the murder of Melo and of a land steward earlier in August, most likely was armed and dangerous when he encountered Melo, who had spent his career patrolling without a firearm, Stoen said.

"It wouldn't have done him any good to have a gun," Stoen said. "It was an ambush and from not too far away."

Stoen had seen both Bassler and Melo in court, one as a defendant and the other as a witness in a marijuana cultivation case involving private timber land.

Melo "was terrific, he was such a raconteur," Stoen said. "He knew so much and he'd say, &‘Let me explain the whole picture.'"

Stoen flipped through the case files from the three times Bassler appeared in court in Fort Bragg. Bassler tested positive for Oxycodone following his September 2010 arrest for being intoxicated in public and again in February 2011 for vandalism and resisting arrest, he said.

<NO1><NO><NO1><NO>Melo was patrolling about four miles east of town when a gunman opened fire, and a companion who escaped identifed the shooter as Bassler.

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