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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.

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.

Bassler also is being sought in the slaying of Mendocino Land Trust Manager Matthew Coleman near Cape Vizcaino north of the coastal town of Westport on Aug. 11.

Authorities have not revealed anything about the evidence linking Bassler to the death of Coleman, who was shot while he worked on an ocean-front ranch owned by the Save the Redwoods League.

Smallcomb and Sonoma County sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary, who oversees violent crimes investigations in Sonoma County, disputed Bay Area news reports linking Bassler to a double homicide on a Jenner beach in 2004.

"We have nothing to tie him to the Jenner case whatsoever," O'Leary said Wednesday, responding to the TV news report.

Ohio residents Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and Jason Allen, 26, had spent the summer serving as counselors at a Christian white-water rafting camp in El Dorado County when they decided to spent a night on the coast before heading home.

"It's just like with any homicide investigation," O'Leary said. "It's ongoing. And if there are incidents in other areas, we definitely take a look at those. But at this point, there's nothing to indicate that he (Bassler) is involved in this."

A criminal complaint against Bassler was filed in Mendocino County Court on Friday, charging him with two counts of first-degree murder and special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole if convicted. He also is charged with the attempted murder of the man who was with Melo when he was killed.

Smallcomb said authorities have set up a perimeter around an area of forest in which they believe Bassler has been hiding since he approached the home of his mother, Laura Brickey, around 8:15 a.m. Sunday.

Deputies were within shouting distance of Bassler and loosed a police dog that made contact with him, but he got away, Smallcomb said.

Bassler's father said Wednesday he spoke with sheriff's officials Wednesday about possibly trying to broadcast a message from himself or another family member into the woods to ask that he surrender peacefully.

James Bassler has said his son's mental stability went into decline when he was a young man and has deteriorated to a point of paranoia and violent outbursts.

Smallcomb said his team was "maybe" talking about such an effort to convince Bassler to give up his flight.