FORT BRAGG — A disturbed Fort Bragg man being sought in the weekend slaying of City Councilman Jere Melo was charged Friday with the earlier shooting death of a local land steward gunned down on the Mendocino coast.
Aaron Bassler, 35, remained at large Friday, likely somewhere in the vast woods east of Fort Bragg, where more than two dozen deputies and officers have been deployed throughout the week in search of the man now suspected in two homicides.
Authorities would not describe the evidence linking Bassler to the Aug. 11 death of Matthew Coleman in a remote section of ranchland north of Westport, but obtained an arrest warrant naming him as the suspect in both cases on Friday afternoon.
A criminal complaint has been filed against Bassler in Mendocino County court charging him with two counts of first-degree murder and two special circumstances that makes him eligible for the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole if guilty of the crimes.
Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster said through a spokesman that it was too early to determine whether prosecutors would seek death in the case.
The special circumstances include an allegation Bassler lay in wait for Melo and that he committed multiple murders.
He additionally is charged with the attempted murder of a still-unidentified man who was with Melo when he was killed, and three special allegations for his alleged use of a firearm in all three charged offenses.
Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb declined to comment on similarities between the two slayings, or the evidence discovered at each scene. Sheriff's detectives said they are continuing to collect evidence, interviewing witnesses and working with the California Department of Justice Forensic Laboratory and district attorney's office in the investigation.
News of the arrest warrant confirmed the worst fears of Bassler's father, James Bassler, who said earlier this week he believed his son was responsible for Coleman's death in addition to Melo's slaying.
Bassler said his ex-wife told him she dropped off their son near Westport around the time that Coleman, 45, was found slain on an ocean-front ranch. James Bassler said he later learned his son had a rifle with him at the time he was dropped off nearby.
Smallcomb declined to comment on any communication the sheriff's office may have had from anyone in Bassler's family prior to Melo's slaying. He said both of Bassler's parents have been cooperative with authorities during the investigation.
James Bassler said he first had a "hunch" that his son could be involved in the Coleman homicide before Melo was killed, but he never acted on his feeling or alerted authorities.
"I feel guilty" for not running down to the police station, he said Thursday. But he added, "No one listened to me before though."
In letters to jail medical staff, the county psychiatrist and his son's public defender from a previous case, James Bassler pleaded for help for his son, whom he said suffered delusions and paranoia. He said he received no response from authorities.
Bassler's father said his son had become increasingly unstable and isolated, and made the heavily forested coastal hills his home for the past several months.
He said his son had some contact with his mother from time-to-time and she dropped him off north of Westport on or around Aug. 11. She has declined repeated requests for interviews.