Fort Bragg suspect to be charged in 2 shootings

  • Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner asks the crowd to take a moment of silence in the recent loss of Jere Melo, who was murdered last week, during the 1st Friday Kickoff Party for Paul Bunyan Days.

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.

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