The murder of Red Bluff Police Officer Dave Mobilio happened more than two years ago and the trial is over, the killer on death row awaiting execution. But the pain lives on in Red Bluff, perhaps more so because it's a friendly town that local residents had long considered more Mayberry than mayhem. Bee staff writers Sam Stanton and Marjie Lundstrom set out to answer questions lingering in the community halfway between Sacramento and the Oregon border: "Why Red Bluff?" "Why Dave?" In a five-part series starting today, they show how a senseless, random murder affects not just the lives of family and friends of the victim, but also those of the killer and of the communities where both lived. It's a story that's tough to tell but needs to be told. Cut and pasted from sacbee.com
RED BLUFF, CA - He crouched in the shadows behind a metal bin, waiting to kill. He had passed on earlier targets - two uniformed sheriff's deputies who had stopped by the dimly lit gas station on the edge of Red Bluff to refuel their patrol car.
But the man in the shadows had a plan.
Sometime around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2002, Officer Dave Mobilio of the Red Bluff Police Department became part of that plan.
To this day, residents remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Thanksgiving was nine days away, Gray Davis had been re-elected governor of California, and the town of Red Bluff, population 13,147, had just lost a fourth officer to better pay in nearby Redding.
Dave Mobilio was working hard. The 31-year-old officer with a wife and 19-month-old son - and a dream house under way - was well into his graveyard shift when he pulled into Warner's Petroleum fueling station on Main Street, nearly a mile north of the central business district. Earlier in the day, a family medical emergency had left another officer without child care, and Mobilio had been asked to fill in.
At 1:27 a.m., he radioed dispatch from the gas station and climbed alone from his patrol car.
This was the man's cue. He sprang from his hiding place and began to run, one foot scraping gravel. The noise seemed to startle the uniformed officer, but the man charged forward, firing three armor-piercing bullets. One missed. Two others penetrated the back of Mobilio's body-armor vest, and he fell facedown onto the pavement beside Pump 4, his automatic pistol skittering a few feet away.
The killer stood over the fallen officer, then fired one more shot into Mobilio's head, to make sure he was dead.
In that brutal instant, a beloved police officer was dead, a town descended into mourning, and a bizarre case of politically motivated murder began its long journey through the justice system - a journey that ended in April in a Colusa County courtroom.
But the case is far from over. The mur-der of Officer Dave Mobilio - the first killing of a law enforcement officer in Tehama County in 100 years - crept into the lives of many and resides there still.
There is Mobilio's little boy, left fatherless. There is his widow, who moved back to her hometown to escape the pain, and his Bay Area parents, who still anguish over the loss of their only son. There is the prosecutor with nightmares, the police chaplain with guilt, the jury forewoman who doesn't trust strangers anymore. There is the 7-year-old child of a Red Bluff police detective, who still panics when she hears a siren and needs to be sure her daddy is OK.
And across the country in Ohio, there is another family grieving the loss of their own son, now on death row at San Quentin.
One flash of violence, hundreds of lives transformed.
The year Dave Mobilio died, nine law enforcement officers were killed in California and 156 nationwide, each with their own tragic stories. But Mobilio's murder stands out - a sorrowful chapter in the nation's history of domestic terrorism and the violent eruption of anti-government zealotry.
In Red Bluff, it's more personal. Among those who knew him, and those who did not, the same two questions have been asked, again and again: Why Red Bluff? Why Dave? "For us, it's like the day Kennedy was shot," said Deputy District Attorney Lynn Strom, who would prosecute the case. "It's like we were all there, we all knew him and everybody has a story to tell about what it was like for them. It helps us heal."
The town of Red Bluff, named for the rust-colored cliffs nearby, has retained its small-town charms, though locals complain it's being "discovered."
Nestled along Interstate 5, about 30 miles south of Redding, it is a quick side trip over the Sacramento River, where visitors are greeted on the edge of town by the fading Cinderella Motel and the landmark State Theater, its paint peeling. Historic two-story buildings with brick facades line the two-block central business district, though Wal-Mart has found a perch on the town's southern edge.
Like many of California's rural communities, Red Bluff is feeling the press of new settlers looking inland for a break in lifestyle and housing prices. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Tehama County grew from 49,265 to 56,039. In Red Bluff, the county seat, the median price of homes has more than doubled since 1993, spiraling from $81,500 to $195,500 this year.
Dave Mobilio was among those who migrated from the Bay Area to Red Bluff, where his path to law enforcement was hardly direct. But his decision to settle here, where the hunting, fishing and outdoor lifestyle meshed with his personality, seems preordained.
As a boy growing up in Saratoga, an affluent suburban pocket near San Jose, Dave was what his father would come to call a "tentative adventurer." "David wasn't the first one to embrace risk," said Richard Mobilio, 66, whose white hair frames a sun-burnished face. "He was more cautious. But he also felt as if he had to prove himself in ways that were different than what his sister did, or what I did, or his mother."
Dave liked action from the time he was a small boy, screaming down the grassy hill behind the Mobilio home on his Big Wheel tricycle or learning to navigate the family's backyard pool at age 2.
In a neighborhood chock-full of kids looking for adventure, Dave often found it, wandering about decked out in a hat of some sort - a cowboy hat, a fireman's helmet, anything to adorn his small head.
When he was 6, he and his close friend Scott wandered up the hill on what they decided was a bear hunt, then came tearing down after managing to set a fire that scorched the hillside.
"It was very naughty, and the firemen came and had a very serious talk with him," said his 60-year-old mother, Laurie, a striking woman with high cheekbones and chin-length auburn hair. "It was the only time I ever spanked him, because we were so scared for him."
But Dave rarely gave his parents reason to worry.
As a student, he never excelled the way his older sister, Lynne, had done. While Dave struggled with learning disabilities, she was valedictorian of Saratoga High School, where she was two years ahead of her brother. She eventually earned her doctoral degree in social psychology.
If school was more difficult for Dave, he compensated with candor. In a Nov. 23, 1983, report on Holland that he wrote in the sixth grade at Foothill School, Dave explained how he had come to choose that particular subject: "I chose the country of Holland because I knew it was small, and I thought it was going to be a cinch," he wrote in a boyish hand.
He earned a B-minus.
Dave had what his parents remember as a "Huck Finn quality" and got more enjoyment from being outside, leading packs of children on beachside jaunts during family vacations in Maine, camping in Alaska's grizzly bear country or going on safari in Africa.
Travel lust ran in the family. His father, a former Marine, engineer and consultant with a series of business successes, opened a travel company in 1987 that leads clients on adventure tours worldwide.
But Dave didn't settle on a career path until he was in his late 20s, after a series of jobs. He bagged groceries, mowed lawns and worked as a bouncer, a job that was a natural for a man with a passion for weight lifting and bodybuilding.
He worked at Radio Shack in the San Jose area, once rushing from the store when he saw a passer-by collapse in a parking lot. He calmly administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
Dave moved to Chico in 1991 to attend Butte Community College, and while there found work at Sears in a job aimed at preventing shoplifting. From that job, he slowly warmed to the idea of becoming a police officer.
By then, he had met his future wife, Linda Marie Dias, a schoolteacher whose close friend lived next door to Dave at a Chico apartment complex.
"There's a really cute guy in the apartment next door. I think you guys would be great together. I think you should go meet him," the friend told Linda one day.
"So I marched over to the door and knocked on the glass," Linda recalled later.
Dave answered - "a very attractive man, very strong, healthy build, beautiful green eyes," Linda said.
The torch was lit.
It was 1991. Dave was 21. Linda, 19.
Their romance continued on and off for several years until Dave proposed in 1995 at a Chico restaurant, where he was so nervous Linda thought he was sick. Sweating and coughing, he dropped to one knee and told her, "You're the one I want to spend my life with."
Linda said yes, and the couple left the restaurant with their entire meal in boxes. They were too excited to eat.
By that November, Dave had graduated from the police academy, and he and Linda agreed they would move wherever one of them got a job first. Linda was hired to teach school in Cottonwood in 1996, the same year they were married, and the couple moved to nearby Red Bluff, where Dave set his sights on landing a job with the Police Department.
It didn't take long. He was spotted one day by a police sergeant, who saw him working out in a local gym and recruited him to be a reserve officer. Dave had an offer from another department, but he wanted to stay in Red Bluff so Linda would not have far to commute. In 1998, his perseverance won him a full-time job on the force.
Dave fit in quickly in the department, where officers still handle the duties of small-town America: checking the doors on Main Street businesses to make sure they are locked, herding groups of young people toward home at night and answering disturbance calls. "We're Mayberry," explained police Chaplain Ron Fortenberry, who had worked in San Bernardino County before moving to Red Bluff. "I came from Southern California where a ride-along is 'man with gun' calls and five 911s pending. And here they actually answer barking-dog calls. I'd say, 'You mean we're going to go answer a barking-dog call?' 'Yeah, that's what we do.' "
For Dave Mobilio, it was the perfect fit.
On his off days, he would ride in the backcountry on his souped-up quad off-road vehicle, or hunt wild pigs or fish. At 5-foot-11 and 240 pounds, he had such massive arms that some thought he looked uncomfortable in short-sleeved shirts. At Linda's school, when he would pop in for surprise visits, children would hang off his arms, treating them like monkey bars.
He was punctual, always showing up 30 minutes early for any engagement. But he also was impulsive, never able to wait to open a gift, even as a grown man. Once he showed up at Linda's school with a Great Dane puppy that he had decided the couple just had to have, bringing it into the classroom for the kids to name.
At work, he quickly became known as the department prankster, a characteristic that occasionally backfired. Once, while trying to get back at a colleague, he grabbed a jar of Vaseline and squished the whole gooey mess under the car door handle of his intended target - or so he thought.
"Unfortunately, it was the supervisor's door," Red Bluff Police Chief Al Shamblin would say later in court, while spectators chuckled. "He got the wrong one. "But he was always full of things to do. Just tons of fun to be around." Beyond the practical jokes, Mobilio was best known around town as an officer in the DARE program - Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Affectionately known as "DAREman Dave," he was assigned to schools two days a week to help prevent children from drifting into drug use. The other two days he patrolled Red Bluff.
He worked regularly at Jackson Heights Elementary School, where more than 70 percent of the school's 500-plus students live at or below the poverty level.
"Dave was always seen with the children on the playground or eating in the cafeteria," said Steve Meagher, vice president of the Jackson Heights PTA. "Kids were not embarrassed to say that he was a cool guy to be with."
When his parents visited, Mobilio would take them along on patrol so they could see him in the job he loved. His mother, Laurie, marveled at the way he could spot things she had overlooked.
"He waded into threatening situations," she said. "He had guts. I wasn't really (worried), I had a lot of confidence in him. I could see, having been in a ride-along, how they supported one another.
"And it was Red Bluff, after all."
It was Red Bluff, a place where danger didn't seem to lurk. Until the murder, the only two instances of law enforcement officers being killed in Tehama County dated back more than 100 years. In 1895, Sheriff John Jasper Bogard was shot while trying to stop a train robbery. In 1902, James Henan DeLaney, the 41-year-old constable of tiny Vina, 25 miles southeast of Red Bluff, was shot while questioning a man about firecrackers.
Red Bluff, midway between Sacramento and the Oregon border, remains farming and ranching country - part of the attraction for Dave and Linda as they began to plan the rest of their lives together. When they moved to this small town, with two stoplights in the main business district, they bought a house. But they eventually sold it to buy a 5-acre parcel with a creek running through it, where they would build their dream home.
Dave was an incurable romantic, writing love letters and sending flowers - "all the things that a woman dreams of," Linda said. He would go through an entire pad of Post-It notes, scribbling love messages and sticking them throughout the house. One day, she came home and found one that said: "Let's have a baby."
Their son, Luke, was born on April 16, 2001, and Dave wept openly. He had accompanied Linda to every doctor's appointment and, in his impulsive way, surprised her one day by wallpapering the nursery with a Noah's ark theme. Their dreams were coming together. Life was good.
And it was all about to implode.
On Nov. 18, 2002, the week before Thanksgiving, Dave was home with his 19-month-old son, who was still in diapers. By then, the family was living in a cramped rental, waiting for the builders to start their house in the country. The foundation had been poured, and the lumber would be delivered the next morning. Linda had run out to buy shoes for a friend's wedding the following weekend.
"I got home," she said later, "and I remembered the phone ringing. Luke had put my shoes on and was clicking around the house in them, and I remember I took pictures."
Dave, who was cooking dinner, came back from the phone call. There was a problem. The 26-member Red Bluff Police Department was already short-handed, having recently lost four officers to higher pay in nearby Redding. Earlier that day, fellow Officer Brett McAllister had found his former mother-in-law unconscious on the floor of her house. She was taken away by ambulance, leaving McAllister to care for his 11-month-old son while his ex-wife went to the hospital.
Dave would have to pick up the 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. "I'm sorry, I have to go to work," he told Linda. "They need me." "And so he got ready, and he told me he loved me, like he always did before he left," Linda said. "And I told him I loved him. And that was the last time I saw him."
Ron Fortenberry got the call about 2:10 a.m. He shook himself awake, listened to the dispatcher and hung up. "What's wrong?" his wife asked. "One of our officers has been killed, and they need me at the scene," he replied. Fortenberry, the 50-year-old police chaplain, sat on the bed, so numb with shock he couldn't remember where his uniform was. His wife, Renee, had to help him on with his clothes.
Across Red Bluff, similar scenes played out as police dispatcher Sue Meyers called people in.
Gregg Cohen, the Tehama County district attorney, groggily took his call, then quickly dressed and made the 25-second drive to the gas station.
Dan Flowerdew, a Red Bluff police detective, soon arrived at the murder scene, too, where his friend and colleague lay dead. The body had been discovered minutes earlier by another Red Bluff officer, sent to check up on Dave Mobilio when he failed to respond to a radio call.
Flowerdew's duty lasted until midnight the next day - a 22-hour shift that would haunt him for months to come. While others would have lasting memories of Mobilio in life, the body covered in tarps would be the stark image that lingered with him.
"Our guys were fortunate because they remember Dave in uniform or as a kid," said the detective, a tall, lean man who speaks in steady, measured tones. "Well, I remember Dave there ... ."
While Flowerdew began his vigil, Fortenberry and others headed toward Dave and Linda's rental home in Anderson, 20 miles north on Interstate 5.
"The hardest thing for me to do was go to Linda's house," Al Shamblin would recall later.
Shamblin, now the Red Bluff police chief and a 32-year veteran of the department, was commander in charge of patrol operations the night of the murder. It fell to him to lead the others to Dave and Linda's home. Linda needed a face she would recognize.
"There was a pound at the door. It was the middle of the night ... And it was getting louder and louder," Linda, then 29, said in court testimony.
Frightened, she first thought she should call her husband for help. She peeked through the glass panels in the door and saw shapes of people on the step. Then she heard Shamblin's voice, one she recognized, and she opened the door.
"I saw Al," she would recall. "He looked so sad." She knew at once something was wrong. "Where's David? Where is he?" she asked. When they broke the news, Linda became physically ill, running to the bathroom over and over. One of the officers retreated to Luke's bedroom to hold the child.
Finally, Linda asked Shamblin to get her parents on the phone in Chico. But after he dialed and reached her father, Shamblin found "the words just wouldn't come out. "And I had to hand her the telephone." Linda told the officers there were two things she wanted before she and Luke left for Chico: Dave's badge and his wedding ring. "And they took it off of his finger on the pavement and brought it to me," she said.
Word of the murder was spreading quickly now, and investigators were worried. Some things needed to be kept secret.
The killer appeared to have left a clue, though it was as mysterious as the murder itself. Placed beside Dave Mobilio's lifeless body was a homemade canvas flag with a picture of a snake and, painted in black, the enigmatic words: "This was a political action." Printed below in smaller black letters was the warning: "Don't tread on Us." District Attorney Cohen studied the scene. The officer had been shot three times - twice in the back and once in the head - but there were no shell casings. No witnesses.
No surveillance pictures. Nothing.
Only the flag.
"Basically, we've got a dead officer and we have no shell casings, which we think is very, very odd," said Cohen, 43, a shrewd, hardworking prosecutor with a trace of his New Jersey roots in his accent.
"And we have this flag. So we're very unnerved. Very, very unnerved."
Flowerdew was anxious to keep inquisitive journalists and onlookers from seeing the flag. With a news media helicopter on its way, investigators hurried to shield the crime scene with a curtain of red Fire Department tarps.
"The flag to me was just critical - just crucial - because there were only a few people who knew it had been placed there: the responding officers, the crime scene people and the person who put it there," said Flowerdew, 41, a 16-year veteran of the small Police Department.
"We didn't know what it meant. But we knew the person who put it here knew exactly what was on the flag."
Mobilio's body was shielded by the red tarps, too, and a cordon of yellow police tape. The body would remain at the gas station well into the afternoon.
This soon became a matter of contention.
"The other officers were (saying), 'Why is Dave still out there? What's going on?' " Flowerdew recalled.
Virtually everyone at the scene knew the victim, and they wanted him lifted gently from the concrete and driven away. But Flowerdew and others knew that couldn't happen, that Mobilio would have to stay there while detectives combed the scene.
Fortenberry would say later how glad he was it hadn't rained that day. Maybe it was stupid, he thought, but "I didn't want Dave to get wet. "He was my friend," Fortenberry said sadly, "and I didn't want him to get wet." Even with the flag, investigators were stymied. What did it mean?
Still more perplexing: Why Red Bluff? Why Dave?
Cohen knew that murders were rare in Red Bluff, and they usually happened for obvious reasons. The prosecutor wondered if this murder might be linked to the Nov. 8 death of a 31-year-old Red Bluff man, who had collapsed and died in police custody after a foot chase by officers.
"That was our first thought, that maybe there was some type of retribution," the prosecutor said. "I think that's what everybody kind of thought."
They were looking in the wrong direction. The man they wanted was halfway to Oregon, and everything was going exactly to plan.
Andy Mickel drove away from the murder scene in silence in his maroon 1992 Ford Mustang hatchback, sticking to the back roads as he left Red Bluff.
His radio was broken. That was not part of the plan.
But everything else went just the way the 23-year-old man had wanted: the murder, the cop, the small town in California.
Behind him, 31-year-old Red Bluff Police Officer Dave Mobilio - a bear of a man with a wife and toddler son - lay facedown on the pavement of a filling station, shot twice in the back and once in the head.
An execution, pure and simple.
A homemade flag depicting a snake lay beside Mobilio's body with the words: "This was a political action. Don't tread on Us."
Mickel, who had fashioned the flag along with a homemade brass catcher to collect his spent shell casings, always figured he'd have time to get away and complete his plan.
A 5-foot-10, 160-pound man with dark hair and sharp, angular features, Mickel did not fit the profile of a cop killer. He wasn't a criminal or drug dealer. He was a college student. He'd been a peace activist. He'd served in the Army. His middle-class parents were college teachers, his brothers were successes, his childhood friends were solid citizens with promising careers.
And he was a long way from home.
The man who had ambushed and executed a small-town cop in Northern California in November 2002 was best known in Springfield, Ohio, a town of about 65,000 between Columbus and Dayton. A former railroad hub where freight trains still thunder through the city, Springfield is a key stop for presidential candidates scouting votes in bellwether Clark County and all of Ohio.
It would soon be on the map for something else.
Even from childhood, friends would say, Andrew Hampton Mickel seemed destined for something big. A boy who would make his mark one day.
"I always knew that Andy was going to do something great," said Ben Poston, a friend since grade school. "I just didn't know if it was going to be great in a good way or great in a bad way."
No one foresaw the mark Mickel would leave before his 24th birthday - an act so violent and unexpected that his friends and family, like those of the victim, would be left to ask: Why?
It is the enduring mystery in the murder of Dave Mobilio, whose life collided with Mickel's in a dimly lit gas station on Nov. 19, 2002. Now Mobilio, a cop, was dead, ambushed by Mickel when he stopped to fill up. Two and a half years later, Mickel would be sentenced to death for the crime.
Yet here were two young men with seemingly similar backgrounds - educated parents, successful siblings, loyal friends and solid middle-class upbringings with world travel and rich opportunities.
So what went wrong with Andy Mickel?
"This is a situation we never ever dreamed we'd have to face," his mother, Karen, recently said, softly weeping.
Andy Mickel, the second of Stan and Karen Mickel's sons, was raised in Springfield, Ohio. Surrounded by farm country, the Clark County city - with its historic clock tower overlooking a neglected downtown core - has the usual urban problems: poverty, drugs, some violence. One of its largest employers, International Harvester (now Navistar International), continues to shed jobs. Civic leaders are pinning their hopes on the revitalizing possibilities of a hospital consolidation.
With four exits off Interstate 70, Springfield also is home to Wittenberg University, a small liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Stan Mickel, a professor and scholar specializing in Chinese language and literature, came to Wittenberg in 1971. In 1978, he was awarded a Senior Fulbright Fellowship to do research in Taiwan, where Andy was born.
Years later, sitting in a jail cell in Red Bluff, Andy Mickel would display a string of four Chinese symbols he had later tattooed in dark green on the inside of his left arm. Translated, he said in an interview with The Bee, they read "Central Clinic," the place of his birth.
A fifth Chinese symbol, he said, was one he and his father came up with together when he decided to get tattooed: "Compassionate Warrior."
Despite their world travels, the Mickels returned to Springfield to raise their boys in a quiet neighborhood of 1940s-and 1950s-era homes.
The established neighborhood, with expansive front lawns and a leafy canopy of maple, elm and locust trees, is made up mostly of two-story houses with crisply painted shutters and colorful awnings.
The Mickels were among the first on the block to have a computer, an appealing draw for the neighborhood kids. Karen Mickel, a math instructor at the University of Dayton, served on the local school board. Her husband, who had earned his bachelor's degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate from Indiana University, was widely published.
The Mickels initially agreed, then declined, to talk in depth with The Bee about their son, worrying they would say something to hurt or alienate him.
Friends describe the couple as gentle, sincere people whose lives have been turned inside out by the crime. Shortly after they returned from California for their middle son's murder trial, they attended their youngest son's graduation from Notre Dame. Patrick Mickel is going on to get his doctoral degree in physics; their oldest son, Jeremy, is a graphic artist in New York.
Andy is on death row in San Quentin.
"I'm scared to death we're going to do something that's going to be worse for our son. I know it's hard to imagine anything worse," said Karen Mickel, her voice trembling.
But others who knew Andy Mickel did share recollections, scouring their memories for markers - for anything - that might explain the eruption of violence. They are hurt, they are sickened, they feel horrible for Dave Mobilio's family - and, without exception, they are baffled.
Poston, Mickel's childhood friend, remembers his buddy as an adventurous, somewhat dramatic playmate. "Every day of the week was a chance to get into a kind of adventure," said Poston, 25, a newspaper reporter who recently left Ohio for the Missouri School of Journalism.
Andy was the fantasy-loving kid who liked Indiana Jones and comic books featuring Batman, the Joker and the Green Lantern.
"He was really into fantasy and kind of creating his own reality, even as a little kid," Poston said. "You always got that sense that he looked at his life like he was living in a movie, and he was the star."
Judi Smith, whose backyard is catty-corner from the Mickels', found the neighbor boy to be a "sensitive child." Andy was close friends with Smith's twin daughters, Rachel and Lindsay, from the first grade. He was especially close to Rachel, digging with her for worms as a kid, then escorting her to Prom Court as a teen. Being neighbors and in the same class, the kids were part of the same circle all the way through high school.
Judi Smith and Karen Mickel would talk over the back hedge and picket fence, occasionally having cookouts or taking the kids on "little field trips" in the summer.
It deeply touched Smith that Andy once spent his summer afternoons visiting her mother, who had Alzheimer's disease and was living temporarily at the house.
"I remember one time Andy came over and I said, 'The girls aren't home, Andy.' And he goes, 'That's all right, I came to see your mom,' " said Smith, a 54-year-old mother of four. "And he would sit with her and she'd go on and on about stuff, and he'd just hold her hand and he'd just laugh with her, and kiss her on the cheek when he left."
As he grew up, Mickel ran with a crowd of about 16 boys and girls of similar age - a tightly knit group of kids, including Poston and the Smith twins, who didn't romance each other but simply hung out. The Mickels loved this crowd for their son. The kids gathered often in the Smiths' spacious family room, where they watched movies or played games like Scattergories.
"We weren't these prudish, perfect little kids," said Rachel Smith Wilson, who is now married and living in Tennessee, pursuing a doctoral degree in economics. "But we also didn't have to drink every weekend like a lot of high school students do."
In high school, the friends began having elaborate progressive dinner parties that continued into their college days, though Mickel often had to be prodded to participate.
In other ways, he showed himself to be a nonconformist, occasionally doing odd, attention-grabbing things. Rachel Wilson recalled how her friend once showed up at a school dance in a blue sweat suit, his entire body colored with blue marker, calling himself a "Smurf." In one of his senior class pictures, he posed standing in a metal garbage can. When his older brother graduated from high school, and friends gathered in the Mickels' backyard, Andy suddenly appeared on the roof, dressed like Indiana Jones and carrying a whip. With a flourish, he jumped down amid the guests.
"It was like a five-minute little episode. I remember thinking, 'That's Andy,' " said Wilson, now 25.
Andy's antics were well known. While his friends had their own claims to fame - Ben Poston was named in the senior yearbook as the "Teacher's Pet" and, along with Lindsay Smith, as having the "Best Hair" - Andy was chosen as both the "Most Witty" and the "Most Daring" in the class of '98.
"He had an amazingly witty sense of humor. He was really funny," said Griffin House, a close childhood friend singled out in the yearbook for the "Best Eyes."
House, now a musician living in Nashville, credits Andy with opening up his creative side. As kids, the two would grab House's mother's old Camcorder and make comedy sketches they thought were hilarious.
"He's so smart," House said. "His mind just works a lot differently than others'."
Scott Dixon, who tutored Andy in creative writing, couldn't help but notice the cynicism that crept into his pupil as he entered adolescence. But Dixon, a 42-year-old school consultant who deals with severely emotionally disturbed kids, never saw any violent tendencies in him, or any other red flags.
It was, Dixon thought, just "typical teen angst."
"He always seemed to be shackled by cynicism, and I always hoped that someday he'd break free of those chains," said Dixon, who enjoyed Andy's writing, which he described as "biting, dark humor," though enigmatic at times.
Andy Mickel did not excel in school; everyone agrees he didn't much care for classroom work. But they considered him exceptionally bright.
Linda Bodey, his drama teacher at North High School, still thinks of him as one of her "special" students, a kid so absorbed with detail he "could write a whole paper about one paragraph in a novel." When playing Tiresias, the blind seer, in "Oedipus Rex," Andy painstakingly practiced how to position his fingers on a cane to best resemble an old man. Bodey thought such attention to detail sometimes left Andy with tunnel vision, as he burrowed down a track without seeing the wider view.
"He always had a cause; he was not caught up in the typical high school milieu," said Bodey, 52, an energetic teacher known to work 12-and 14-hour days.
A shoecast at the scene:
Andy seemed drawn to her, often quizzing her at length about her long hours, her private life and whether she was happy. In 24 years of teaching, only two other students had ever broached such personal and penetrating topics.
"He was very bright, inquisitive, always processing in his head," said Bodey. "He was always the guy somehow not quite on the same rhythm as everybody else - enough so you might have picked him out in the crowd."
He could also use his mind like a weapon. Poston recalls how his friend sometimes tried to intimidate and bully people with his intellect - a characteristic that would be observed years later in a California courtroom.
"He was always kind of playing this intellectual mind game with people," Poston said. "He would say things then wait for somebody to say something that was maybe not the most thoughtful statement. Then he would push you and say, 'What do you mean? Justify what you just said.' "
If there was a chink in Andy Mickel's intellectual armor, it was his moodiness and occasional erratic behavior as he moved through North High School.
Everyone seemed to know that he suffered from depression and was prescribed antidepressants that he hated to take.
Depression appears to have played a key role in what would be his earliest, and virtually only, brush with the law before his move to the West Coast in 2001.
In October 1997, his family reported him missing after a night out with friends. Poston says he was with Andy that night in Springfield, going to see the film "A Life Less Ordinary" with Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz. Driving home in his Geo Metro, Andy - who Poston said was not drinking or using illegal drugs - began driving recklessly, racing the wrong way down a boulevard and crashing into a tree. The car, which his parents had given him, slammed into the tree on the passenger side where Poston was sitting. Neither was hurt.
Andy drove the car home, then ran away that night. Poston said his friend walked or hitchhiked some 15 miles to Yellow Springs, Ohio, home of Antioch College, where he fashioned a lean-to from sticks and spent the night in John Bryan State Park. Poston and his friends went looking for Andy the following day, but he returned on his own, stopping by Poston's nearby home.
There, he talked with Poston's father, a psychologist, about his depression.
The episode disturbed his friends. "It kind of spooked everybody," Poston recalled.
Judi Smith also began to notice that the "sensitive" boy next door seemed "kind of troubled sometimes." She wasn't sure what medication he was taking - his family won't say - but she suspected it wasn't working.
One afternoon, as Smith stood on her front porch, Andy paid her a visit when the girls weren't home. Smith had been on antidepressants herself following some surgery, and she decided to broach the subject.
"I said, 'You know, I'm on something and it's helping me, and it's not the worst thing in the world.' And he hugged me real tight," she recalled. "He seemed so sad."
Apart from the depression, though, Poston, House and others saw little amiss. If there were large cracks in the Mickel family, they didn't see them. If there was anything wrong, Andy didn't say.
And despite their friend's occasional antics, he also did the typical things. He was a Cub Scout and a paperboy. He attended Lutheran Sunday school. He wrestled awhile. He went on canoeing and camping trips. He helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity.
Then, upon graduating in 1998, Andy Mickel threw his teachers and friends a curve. While the gang headed off to college, he decided to join the Army.
"I would've more expected him to join the Peace Corps than enlist in the armed forces," Bodey said.
Poston was equally perplexed.
"I don't know why," said Poston, who, along with House, attended Miami University, 75 miles away in Oxford, Ohio. "He wanted to kind of experience it all. I think he just wanted to be an Everyman - be everywhere, do everything he could."
Mickel spent most of three years at Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. He graduated from Army Ranger School, Airborne School and Jungle Operations Training School.
Rachel Wilson saw her old friend during his Army days and was disturbed by how much he'd changed. Home for a visit from college, she was jogging in the neighborhood when she spied two strangers who looked like skinheads. She thought about turning around until she recognized Andy.
She ran up to give him a hug. Instead, he stepped back and stuck out his hand.
"He was just so different, so different," she said. "He was just kind of cold. His eyes were cold. It just didn't seem like the same person to me - just distant and removed." It was, she thinks, the last time she saw him.
But Andy Mickel would not stay long in Ohio or his old neighborhood. After being honorably discharged from the Army in 2001, he decided to head west for Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
The distance between Andy Mickel and Dave Mobilio had shortened considerably.
Evergreen State College, a secluded campus set in a forest, was a long way from Springfield - not just geographically, but philosophically.
A left-leaning liberal arts school with about 4,400 students, it grabbed national headlines in 1999 by selecting convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as a commencement speaker.
While students listened to a 13-minute taped speech from the former Black Panther on death row in Pennsylvania, angry protesters - including the victim's widow - stormed out of the event. Then-Gov. Gary Locke refused to attend and deliver his scheduled keynote address.
Mickel chose this school, with its main gathering area called "Red Square." He ostensibly came to study creative writing. The college was not as academically rigorous as his parents would have liked and, in his freshman year - when many new college students are confined to large lecture halls and tackling basic requirements - he was allowed to do independent study.
It was during this time that Mickel's personal politics got increasingly intense.
In December 2001, he went to Israel with a pro-Palestinian activist group pushing for an end to Israeli "occupation." The following summer, he went to Colombia, South America, to study nonviolent resistance, and to Northern Ireland, another global hot spot. In the Pacific Northwest, he joined protests against the World Trade Organization and was arrested in Seattle in April 2002 for interfering with a police officer.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen would later say in court that Mickel had reached for an officer's gun during the Seattle arrest, though Mickel would staunchly deny that in his jailhouse interview with The Bee three days before his sentencing.
But there is no denying that Andy Mickel became more political at college. He began railing about social injustice and corporate irresponsibility and capitalism run amok.
Scott Dixon, his old tutor back in Springfield, saw Mickel on a Thanksgiving visit home and heard him talk about politics - about corporations, environmentalism and the like. To him, Mickel seemed no more strident than many politically minded college students.
Poston didn't talk much to Mickel during this period, but both he and Dixon wonder now whether the back-to-back cultures of the rigid Army followed by a freewheeling liberal arts college made for a volatile mix.
"He went from the Army, where they tell you exactly what to do, and you learn things and it's regimented. And he got out and he went to this radical liberal college, where they don't have grades and all that," said Poston. "He was kind of like a blank slate ...
"Put those together, and I guess it was a really bad combination."
Dixon suspects his former pupil "wasn't fully emotionally centered" when he left high school and zigged to the Army, then zagged to Evergreen State College. "There were so many diametrically opposed influences coming at him, and he tried to make it all coalesce into a single idea," Dixon said. "And it's that single idea that's kind of led to his downfall."
Whatever the catalyst, by 2002, Mickel's audacious plan had begun to take shape: He was going to murder a cop to draw attention to his politics, and to incite citizens to rise up against their government.
It had to be a small town, he reasoned, one without too many security cameras - the kind of place he'd have a chance to get away, at least for a little while.
And it had to be in California, which Mickel had decided was a prime example of a state where gun laws were too strict.
Reflecting back on that time during his interview with The Bee, Mickel said: "It's a difficult thing to go through with. It's a very significant action to take ... Taking another person's life isn't something to take lightly."
Wearing an orange jailhouse jumpsuit and dingy white T-shirt, Mickel looked gawky and almost boyish - until his gaze settled on his visitors and fixed there, for long, uncomfortable moments. Jurors later would remark about "the stare," which so unnerved one female juror she began to fear for her safety.
"I know everyone thinks I'm the cold-blooded evil murderer," Mickel said, "but I didn't take this action lightly."
Indeed, he planned the killing meticulously. At one point, he told The Bee, he visited a prison near Seattle, taking a tour with a college class so he could get some sense of what prison life would be like.
He left little to chance.
In the summer of 2002, he drove his maroon Mustang from the Pacific Northwest to Yuma, Ariz., and back - a 23-day odyssey that would later be documented with colored pushpins on a map in the Tehama County District Attorney's Office.
This was the hunt, as he tried to find just the right spot in just the right town.
That spot, he ultimately determined, was Red Bluff.
Warner's Petroleum fueling station on Main Street had piqued his interest, with its steady stream of law enforcement officers filling their cars on the outskirts of town. The location was remote enough that he could drive up nearby Breckenridge Street, then slip undetected for 2,060 feet down a desolate dirt road alongside the railroad tracks. The unattended station lay up a short hill, where large metal bins would provide cover.
Mickel returned to Red Bluff on Nov. 17, a Sunday, his plan readied. Sometime after his arrival, a Tehama County sheriff's deputy spotted him, thought he looked out of place and ran his Washington license plate: 595NAB. When nothing came up, the deputy continued on his way.
By now, Andrew Mickel had legally changed his name to Andrew McCrae - a reference, he says, to a character he liked, Augustus "Gus" McCrae, in the Larry McMurtry novel "Lonesome Dove." The name change, he thought, might spare his family any harmful association with what he was about to do.
On the night of Nov. 17, he crept into the site and waited with his .40-caliber Sig Sauer automatic pistol, but he eventually "sort of lost heart," he would later tell investigators. Several officers came and went that night, but "I couldn't get myself to do it," he said.
He drove back to a rest area north of Red Bluff to sleep and regroup, then returned the following night, gassing up first in Redding. The bumpy dirt road he had planned to take into the area behind the gas station was now wet and soggy - it had been dry in September, when he'd first scoped out the site. He eased down the dirt road off Breckenridge Street as far as he could and waited for darkness.
Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m., he left his car and walked along the railroad tracks, then climbed the hill to Warner's. The station lighting was dim; the night was foggy.
This time there would be no turning back, no second thoughts. Only one piece of the plan - not that he really cared - remained uncertain: Who would die?
More to follow.
Tag for next installment
So. what was Mickel's Arfcom (or Assault Web) screen name?
How many of the GD crowd will defend this guy? Before this thread gets locked I predict at least one will argue in favor of this POS's actions.
Part 3 (cut and pasted from Sacbee.com)
RED BLUFF, CA –
The town had never seen anything like it.
More than 2,500 people lined the streets of Red Bluff the day they buried Dave Mobilio. It was Nov. 26, 2002 - two days before Thanksgiving - and people poured into the rural community south of Redding to pay their respects. Some stood silently. Others wept.
Only a few of those who solemnly gathered that morning knew that, across the country in New Hampshire, Mobilio's killer had been arrested just hours earlier.
From the seats of the long white limousine that took them to the funeral service, Mobilio's parents sat quietly, aching for a way to respond to the overwhelming outpouring. It bothered Laurie Mobilio that the limousine's windows were tinted, preventing the crowd from seeing their faces.
"I think of people who stood along the side of the road, holding their hearts or holding a flag, people who stood holding their children in their arms along the route," she said. "I so wanted people to know how much it touched us."
Funerals for fallen police officers are always elaborate affairs. Officers from departments around the state shine their boots and dress shoes, put on their finest uniforms and travel to the services in convoys of patrol cars and motorcycles.
Dave Mobilio's funeral was no exception. A week had passed since his murder, and the case was consuming the town. The governor came, along with the attorney general and countless other law enforcement leaders from California and other states. Officers from the Redding Police Department volunteered to patrol the streets so that all the Red Bluff officers could attend.
The old Kmart parking lot on Main Street became a staging area. With streets cordoned off and helicopters leading the way, the 2½-mile procession wound its way to the Tehama County fairgrounds, where several thousand people gathered for the three-hour service. A black wooden carriage drawn by four white horses carried the flag-covered coffin into the fair pavilion, accompanied by a riderless horse.
Ordinary people made spontaneous gestures, carrying food and flowers into the Police Department. Others showed their grief in simple ways.
One sheriff's deputy drove past a man he considered a "dirtbag," a perpetual troublemaker, now standing by the roadside crying and waving as the hearse passed.
That image would stay with Ron Fortenberry, the Red Bluff police chaplain who was to preside over the funeral. It was a difficult task - especially for a relative newcomer like Fortenberry, who had moved to Red Bluff only four years earlier. He felt a heavy weight, knowing that all of Red Bluff and Tehama County was counting on him to get it right.
"When you come into Red Bluff," he explained, "you've got to be here 40 years before you have bragging rights."
After the funeral, a third-generation Tehama County resident approached Fortenberry, crying.
"Ron," he told the chaplain, "now you can say you're from Red Bluff. You're one of us."
But Red Bluff didn't feel like the same place Fortenberry had moved to in 1998.
"I came from Southern California and I had told my friends, 'Man, I've come to Mayberry,' " he said. "And a few years later, your Mayberry's been shattered."
In the weeks and months that followed the murder, scarcely a day went by in Red Bluff without some tribute to Dave Mobilio.
A local seamstress tailored a tiny police uniform for his 19-month-old son, Luke.
Carwash fundraisers were held. A casino staged a boxing match and donated its profits to the widow and her son.
There were golf tournaments, scholarship funds established for Luke, donation buckets at barbershops. The gym renamed its weight room "Dave's Cave." An ocean researcher named a whale in Dave's honor, and Wal-Mart created a huge display of his badge in pansies.
At Jackson Heights Elementary School, where "DAREman Dave" had taught students to stay away from drugs, a "Pennies for Dave" fundraiser brought in thousands of dollars for a memorial at the school. The idea was the brainchild of second-grade teacher Stephanie Alford, who knew the kids didn't have a lot.
"But I'll bet you they'd sure bring in their pennies," she told Steve Meagher, whose son was in her class.
And they did - so much so that Meagher, his wife and son were overwhelmed, trying to keep up with the penny rolling.
"This was nights and nights of rolling," said Meagher, vice president of the school PTA and a retired South San Francisco firefighter. "I had so many pennies in there that the entire floor was covered. I remember being up at 2 or 3 in the morning stuffing them in the little tubes."
A year after Dave Mobilio's death, the school unveiled the memorial, a boulder with a granite plaque that carries his name and radio call number, 136. The memorial sits beneath a large fruitless mulberry tree and is flanked by six stone benches. An engraving depicts Mobilio as a police officer, directing a young boy and girl down a path into the sunset.
"It's indicative of a path of life, and that's how we thought of him, that he was directing our kids here through a path of life in a safe way," Meagher said.
The murder was especially hard on the small Red Bluff Police Department, where fellow officers were like family. In the days following Mobilio's death, investigators turned the town upside-down. The hunch that the murder might be retaliation for the recent death of a man who had collapsed and died in police custody after a foot chase had gone nowhere. The search had widened, with investigators doing parole and probation searches on "kind of anybody and everybody," said Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen. Even motorists who had once been stopped by Mobilio for traffic violations were considered potential suspects.
Mobilio's private life also was scrutinized.
"We started running through our typical stuff," Cohen said. "What is the motive? Is it a jealousy thing, is he cheating on his wife? Did he owe anybody any money? Did he gamble?
"Whether right or wrong, that's what you do. And all of that was coming up 'no.' "
With a killer on the loose, police were understandably fearful. Officers accustomed to riding alone started patrolling in teams. To avoid the murder scene, officers were issued credit cards for other gas stations. The small department eventually installed bulletproof glass in the police station's lobby.
"I'm telling you, I have never felt as low or seen this department as low, and I've been here 32 years," said Police Chief Al Shamblin, an inveterate fisherman who had given Mobilio pointers on the best spots for catching bass at Shasta Lake.
The officers' spouses wrestled with their own anxieties.
Rhonda Flowerdew had been a part of law enforcement families for years. Her father was a cop and her husband, Dan, was put in charge of the Red Bluff crime scene. But nothing had prepared her for this.
"It's put such a different fear to me," she said. "My shield of security has been broken, and it's affected my kids terribly."
For the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Marissa, the worries come whenever her father goes out in uniform, as Mobilio did that night.
"When Daddy's in his detective clothes it's OK," Rhonda Flowerdew said. "But when Daddy goes out of the house in uniform, it puts a fear in her.
"When she hears a siren every once in a while she will come to me and say, 'Mommy, did Daddy just get hurt by a bad guy? Did Daddy just get shot?'"
As recently as April 16, while Flowerdew was on duty and his family was at the rodeo carnival, Marissa heard sirens and panicked.
"We had to drive around town until we found Daddy," Rhonda Flowerdew said.
Fortenberry, the police chaplain, remains troubled that he knew Mobilio only casually and had never gotten better acquainted with the officer and his wife, Linda.
"I had to go to her house and help the chief tell her her husband was killed," Fortenberry said. "And to sit there, with her and her parents making death notifications to his parents, helping with the kid, all that stuff.
"I felt like a jerk. She didn't know me from Adam."
Across the country in Ohio, Andy Mickel's family and friends endured their own nightmare.
Mickel's father, Stan, was in his office at Wittenberg University, working with two advanced students on a paper in Chinese, when he got a disturbing call. It was Nov. 25 - the day before Mobilio's funeral - and a family friend had phoned to say she'd heard from Andy, who "referred to having killed someone."
Stan and Karen Mickel, shown after the sentencing of their son, Andy, learned of his claim to have killed a cop when he e-mailed friends. Stan Mickel found a photo of Dave Mobilio on the Red Bluff Police Department's Web site. "And next to him was a badge with a black stripe ... across it," the university professor said.
"But she wasn't sure whether (he) was just having some sort of macabre joke or whether something was really going on," Stan Mickel testified later in court.
The professor dismissed his students and gazed out the window, mulling the conversation. The friend, a photojournalist for the Washington Post who had attended Wittenberg, told him that his son had mentioned Red Bluff.
Stan Mickel went to his computer and began searching for a Web site for that city. The first page showed nothing of interest, so he went to the Police Department site.
"And slowly but surely the picture of Officer Mobilio filled the screen," he testified. "And next to him was a badge with a black stripe ... across it."
The professor phoned his wife, Karen, at work, saying "there was an incident of supreme importance" and she needed to come home. He hurried back to the house, where he found two letters from their son waiting in the couple's mailbox.
Under questioning in court, Stan Mickel described the letters' contents this way: "The first page basically says that we've had our differences, and it's going to be hard for me to understand and accept what you're doing," he said, looking at his son. "And it ends with the phrase that you are trying to make the world a better place for everyone."
In between, Andy Mickel talked about the murder.
As they read the letters in the privacy of their Springfield, Ohio, home, Mickel's parents had no idea that their middle child - a college sophomore who had excelled in high school drama - had publicly announced his starring role in the murder over the Internet. Thousands, perhaps millions, already had read his confession.
It was all part of the plan.
"Hello Everyone, my name's Andy. I killed a Police Officer in Red Bluff, California, in a motion to bring attention to, and halt, the police-state tactics that have come to be used throughout our country," he declared in his 3,900-word manifesto, posted days after the murder on Web sites run by the San Francisco-based Independent Media Center.
"Now I'm coming forward," he wrote, "to explain that this killing was also an action against corporate irresponsibility."
He signed his e-mail, "God Bless Us, Every One, Andy."
Leaving Red Bluff and heading north after the murder, Mickel had dispatched his manifesto from Internet cafes in Portland and Seattle. Then he hopped a plane for Vermont, taking a bus from Burlington, Vt., to Concord, N.H. That was also part of the plan, because the New Hampshire Constitution includes the right of revolution.
It was there that Stan and Karen Mickel finally tracked down their son, who was staying in Room 420 of a Holiday Inn under the name of Andrew McCrae - ostensibly to protect them. By then, the couple had already sought legal advice.
Over the phone, Stan Mickel told his son he was going to notify police.
"You do what you have to do," Andy told him.
The Mickels did.
Earlier in the day, their attorney had alerted a Springfield police captain, vaguely telling him a client's family member could be in trouble and he might be needed. That evening, Capt. Stephen Moody - now the city's chief of police - was called again by the attorney and given an address.
"Once the door opened, I realized, 'I know Stan and Karen,' " said Moody, a tall, soft-spoken man with shortly cropped graying hair.
It was an awkward situation for Moody, who listened to the Mickels' story, then left their home to make phone calls out West. The story checked out. But officials in California wanted to know more, so Moody returned to the Mickels' home.
"To me, that was the toughest part of the evening, because I knew that anything I was given from that point in time would be part of the search warrant and would become part of the case record," Moody said.
Whatever compassion he felt for the couple, he knew he was there not to provide comfort but to help California capture a possible cop killer.
Moody also knew the Mickels were afraid their son might be killed by arresting officers, and the father of five took that part of his role seriously.
Around 1 a.m. on Nov. 26, Moody faxed his memo to California authorities, detailing what he had learned.
The net was closing around Andy Mickel.
On the day of Dave Mobilio's funeral, Mickel was arrested at the Concord Holiday Inn, following a standoff with police and the FBI. Before giving up, he was allowed to talk with a local reporter, asking her to read a copy of his "Declaration of Renewed Independence," another document outlining his vision of the new world.
His ramblings received scant attention from the media. But his arrest in New Hampshire became big news in Springfield, where he had spent most of his life.
On Nov. 28 - Thanksgiving Day - the Springfield News-Sun reported the arrest in a front-page story, directly under a cheerful "Happy Thanksgiving" greeting with cartoon turkeys. The headline: "Ex-Springfielder held in slaying of policeman."
In the story, Karen and Stan Mickel made a brief statement: "We love our son dearly but absolutely denounce his alleged actions. Our hearts are breaking for the family and friends of Officer Mobilio."
Scott Dixon of Springfield, who lives two streets from the Mickels and had tutored Andy in creative writing, opened the paper and was stunned.
"It flabbergasted me. I couldn't believe it," said Dixon, 42, who woke up his wife, Beth, after reading the paper. "I was speechless, because I just couldn't foresee that, I couldn't fathom that happening ... It was just befuddling."
By now, Mickel's close friends from childhood were communicating by e-mail. Ben Poston, a journalist and lifelong friend of Mickel's, had sent the first missive, telling the circle of friends that Andrew "McCrae" had been arrested for killing a Red Bluff cop.
Poston knew the truth. But Rachel Wilson, who had known Andy since the first grade, refused to believe that the boy she knew - the nice kid who lived across the back fence, the young man who had been her prom escort - could possibly have done such a thing.
"I have a short fuse, and I just wrote Ben a nasty e-mail and said, 'How could you make something up, or even suggest that Andy would do this?' " recalled the 25-year-old former classmate, whose husband had been in law enforcement.
"Clearly, this is the wrong person, this is a guy named Andrew McCrae," she told Poston in the fiery e-mail. "That's just a horrible, horrible thing for you to do."
As the truth gradually came into focus, Rachel called her mother, Judi Smith, in Springfield.
Rachel was crying when she said, "Mom, Andy Mickel ... "
She took a deep breath.
"In that split second," Judi Smith recalled, crying softly, "I thought she was going to say he killed himself."
Word of Andy Mickel's arrest eventually reached Red Bluff, which had just buried its fallen officer. Suddenly, amid the shock and mourning, some residents had to get to work.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen and his deputy, Lynn Strom, had both known Mobilio, but neither had time to dwell on their grief. From the minute they learned that Mickel had been arrested, the pair focused on ensuring he was convicted and sentenced to death.
"I was very attached to the case because of little Luke, because Luke is very close in age to my youngest one," said Cohen, a father of two.
The case also was personal to Strom, a 48-year-old mother of two who had come to the small office in 1999 from Kern County. A warm, confident woman with a strong handshake, Strom had been a cop herself years earlier in Chico, working primarily as a community service officer. She remembered Mobilio as the affable officer sitting in the courthouse one hot day, waiting to testify in a case.
"He was wearing a short-sleeve summer uniform and his arms were so big, and that shirt just looked like it could barely contain him," she recalled. "It looked uncomfortable, he was so buff."
Strom had learned Dave was dead at 7:30 in the morning from a fellow deputy DA as she passed him in the crosswalk between her office and the Police Department. It was a Tuesday - the regular day for preliminary hearings - and she was scheduled to go straight to court. She went directly to the judge instead and told him: "Nobody's in any condition to do these prelims today."
Then she cried in his office.
Once recovered, Strom knew what she had to do.
"Shortly after it happened, I said, 'I want this case,' " she said. "I asked for it because it was a cop. I wanted to make sure that it was done well and thorough. It's like the only thing I could do to help at that point."
She and Cohen teamed up on the case, and would split duties during the trial. Neither had ever handled a death penalty case before; no one in the office had.
And neither was prepared for Andy Mickel's decision to act as his own attorney, forcing both prosecutors to deal closely and professionally with their friend's killer.
"That's the strangest thing I've ever encountered," Strom said. "Half the time I don't even know what my defendants look like. I never talk to them, there's no reason for me even to look at them unless they're up on the witness stand. There's just so many."
When Mickel walked into a recreation room at the jail set aside for legal conferences with the prosecutors, Strom recalled, "It gave me the creeps." The more she had to work with him, the worse it got, sitting just a few feet away from the man she knew had murdered Dave Mobilio.
The situation bothered Cohen, too, who far preferred the "antiseptic and clean" relationship with a defendant's attorney. Cohen, a DA with a strong work ethic from his days in a middle-class New Jersey neighborhood, came to think of Andy Mickel as a pampered kid.
Case files began to pile up in Strom's office, where she detailed her trial strategy on a sheet of butcher paper taped the full length of her office door.
Strom and Cohen met frequently with Mickel in the county jail, going over evidence. The meetings were always polite. The prosecutors addressed him as "Mr. Mickel," and he was often helpful in explaining to them how he committed the crime.
But the evidence handling was painful, even for a veteran prosecutor.
"That was the part that was really hard to take," said Strom. "We would get a list of what he wanted to look at and you couldn't help but get mad, because he would want to see the T-shirt.
"And he wants to see the uniform shirt. And then having to show it to him, seeing him looking at the holes and where they were in the shirt ... It was like he was checking his target."
Soon, the close encounters would play out in her mind at home.
After working on the case for about a year, she began to have nightmares - "bad nightmares, wake-up-with-your-heart-pounding nightmares," she recalled.
"I can remember one night having to talk myself into not getting up and checking all the closets, because I knew he was in my house," she said. "He was in my house crawling around on the floor that night. It was like little-kid nightmares after seeing a bad movie. I had a lot of them."
For the sake of the town, Cohen and Strom needed to put together as strong a case as they could. Even though Mickel planned to admit to the murder, they wanted to ensure that he'd be sent to death row.
But both were taken aback by Mickel's demeanor, by the casual way he treated his decision to murder Mobilio.
To Cohen, it seemed like Mickel considered his act "almost like cutting down a tree.
" 'Yeah, I cut down that tree and the tree's dead. Yeah, I killed a cop and the cop's dead.' "
It was as if there were no difference between the two.
The case took more than two years to come to trial, and when it finally did, the town of Red Bluff was cut out of the deal.
There was no way Mickel could find a jury from Tehama County that hadn't heard of the killing, so a change of venue was a foregone conclusion.
Mickel wanted San Francisco. The jury pool there would be decidedly more liberal than the conservative folks in Tehama County, perhaps more willing to listen to his radical political theories, which would play a large role in his defense.
And there would be more media attention there, which he also craved. Failing that, Mickel had said he would agree to Sacramento.
But Cohen was insistent. If the case couldn't be tried in Red Bluff, it should be tried in a place like Red Bluff.
When the judge settled on Colusa County, Cohen hit the jackpot. A 75-minute drive south on Interstate 5, Colusa, the county seat, is remarkably similar to Red Bluff. Both are perched along the Sacramento River, and both are conservative communities populated with farmers and ranchers. Both are among the 10 poorest counties in California, based on median income.
Cohen, who used to duck-hunt in Colusa County, was friends with the district attorney there, John Poyner. And Poyner was on board.
"I think if I was Mickel and drew Colusa County I would have withdrawn my motion for a change of venue," said Poyner, the county's district attorney since 1985. "It's just a conservative county, and they're not going to put up with a cop killer.
"Our juries do not stay out long. If you have a jury in this county out for two hours, you have a major problem on your hands."
Colusa County, with 18,804 residents, is about a third the size of Tehama County, and prosecutors worried whether the county could handle a capital murder case.
But Colusa Superior Court Judge S. Walter Abel agreed to take the case and to preside over it in the only courtroom inside the 144-year-old courthouse
For Mickel, that meant a transfer to the Colusa County jail, where he spent most of his time during the trial pondering legal moves and studying evidence.
For prosecutors, the move to Colusa was a logistical production as they loaded up boxes of legal papers and supplies and descended on the Holiday Inn Express in nearby Williams. They already were working overtime, and now would be spending even more time away from their families.
"At one point," Strom recalled, "I was reading juror questionnaires in bed for hours."
On March 21, the day prosecutors took off for Colusa, Strom walked out to her minivan in Red Bluff and discovered a low tire, nearly deflated from the weight of her trial materials. She was delayed long enough for Rhonda Flowerdew to catch up to her at the Tehama County District Attorney's Office.
Flowerdew, whose husband had been the lead detective on the case, pressed a gift bag into Strom's hand. Weeks earlier, she had given Strom an Italian charm to wear on her bracelet, one specially ordered by the Police Department with Dave Mobilio's name and badge number on it.
The gift bag contained another charm, one that Flowerdew had picked up in a gift shop in Reno the previous weekend. It read, "You Go, Girl."
"This is your strength," she told Strom, "because you go, girl. You go get him."
Thanks for sharing. I have to admit. I teared up a couple of times.
Bless this killer's parents for doing the right thing--turning him in.
Link to original newspaper series
Parts 1-4 are linked on the right side of the screen; part 5 isn't posted until tomorrow.
COLUSA, CA - The jury summons arrived in March, two weeks after Chantelle Estess had passed her real estate exam.
In rural Colusa, 75 miles down the road from Red Bluff, the death of a police officer in 2002 was about to envelop even more lives.
"I opened up my mailbox, got it, and cried for about 24 hours," said Estess, who would become a central figure in the state's case against the man accused of killing Red Bluff Police Officer Dave Mobilio.
Nearly 2½ years had passed since Mobilio had been ambushed and murdered at a gas station, and the trial of his alleged assailant, 26-year-old Andy Mickel, had been moved to Colusa because of pretrial publicity.
Now, Estess was facing the prospect of having her life upended. She wasn't pleased.
A 30-year-old single mother, Estess had been laid off the previous summer from her accounting job at the Coca Cola Bottling Co. in Oakland, and she had just passed her test to begin selling real estate. This was supposed to be the next phase of her life, a time to be job-hunting, lining up interviews with area brokers.
As she headed to court in late March, she hoped she'd be excused.
John Poyner hoped otherwise.
A veteran prosecutor serving his fifth term as district attorney for the small farming county, Poyner had been asked by Red Bluff prosecutors to help select the jury. The process began on March 22, a Tuesday, though local attorneys call the ritual when townspeople trudge in with their jury summonses "Bloody Monday."
Poyner, 55, had a good feel for his jury pool; he knew many of them personally.
On a rainy March morning at the Colusa County Courthouse - a historic landmark of Classical Revival architecture that looms over Market Street with imposing white columns - Andy Mickel's jury was all but seated.
Everyone seemed happy with the 12 prospects they had so far.
Suddenly, Poyner spied two women who had not yet been questioned. One had served on a 1993 capital case he had tried; she had voted for death. The other was Chantelle Estess, a 20-year resident of the small community.
Tough women, Poyner mused. He knew Estess in particular to be a "very strong, opinionated woman."
"Call for a recess," Poyner told the Tehama County prosecutors. "We need to have a little chat."
Minutes later, Estess' career plans were put on hold. She was not going to be selling real estate any time soon.
Instead, she would become the jury's forewoman.
Courtroom spectators would remember her as Juror No. 1, sitting attentively in the second row of the jury box, upper left-hand side, scribbling detailed notes on yellow pads and staring intently at Mickel.
Moments after her selection, Estess put aside her reservations. An officer had been killed, and this was her duty. As long as she had to be here, she reasoned, she'd give it her all, paying close attention and doing a good, thorough job.
That would prove to be a tall order. One of the most bizarre murder trials in California history - certainly in these parts - was about to unfold.
California death penalty cases are two-part affairs. Lawyers typically roll out their best evidence and witnesses in the first part, the guilt phase, which determines whether the defendant committed the crime.
The second phase, if needed, determines whether the accused should die or spend the rest of his or her life in prison.
But Mickel made it easy for prosecutors Gregg Cohen and Lynn Strom.
He insisted on acting as his own attorney, and on March 25 - the start of the guilt phase - he stood up at the curved wooden table he shared with them, looked at the jury and began his opening statement.
"First of all, I want to tell you that I did it," Mickel said, wearing jeans, Payless sneakers and a pullover shirt with a collar. "I did ambush and kill Officer David Mobilio."
In the jury box, Chantelle Estess was stunned. A self-assured, 5-foot-3 woman with a strong, compact build, Estess had been expecting the usual excuses and explanations from a defendant trying to wiggle out of the charges.
"It was a very confused moment," she said. "It was kind of like, 'What is he trying to say? What is he trying to play?' "
Mickel's abrupt admission was hardly spontaneous. It was all part of a plan that began with Mobilio's murder on Nov. 19, 2002 - a plan that, in Mickel's mind, would give him a national platform for his radical political views and a stage from which to warn citizens of the government's intrusion into their lives.
When prosecutors completed their case, Mickel had intended to launch into his "defense," and it was hardly a conventional one. He planned to tell the jury that the murder was justified because Mobilio was a police officer, enforcing the laws of a government that is oppressing its citizenry.
In the jury box, Gary Lederer, a high school teacher, instantly saw where Mickel was going. The defendant clearly wanted "a platform to speak from," Lederer said, "and you could tell he really didn't care about the verdict.
"That was part of his whole plan."
Unfortunately for Mickel, a high school drama star, it wasn't part of the court's plan. The defendant wasn't a lawyer and had no training in the law. Judge S. William Abel, known in Colusa as a strict jurist who hates to waste court time, made it clear there were no legal grounds to allow such a defense, at least not in the guilt phase.
After lengthy discussions in Abel's chambers, Mickel came to a decision, and explained it to the jury this way: "I have no evidence that I am allowed to present to the court, and therefore I rest," he told them.
By then, Cohen and Strom had presented a detailed case against him - tracing his movements, recounting his confessions, tying him to the murder weapon.
During their presentation, Mickel sat quietly, often smiling at odd moments, appearing almost pleased when Mobilio's bloodied shirt and photos of his body at the murder scene were displayed.
"He grinned as the shirt was shown with the body," said Estess. "Right now, I just got chills thinking about his reaction to the shirt."
Throughout the trial, Estess kept detailed notes on 5-by-8-inch notepads provided by the court, cataloging key moments. She had always prided herself on an ability to "read people," and the courtroom was a place to put that to the test. Many of her notes described the emotions she did, or did not, observe in the witnesses and the defendant.
"I'd watch his reaction a lot," she explained. "I was staring at Mickel pretty hard during the trial, as far as watching the reactions and understanding what he was saying ... I needed to understand how he was feeling by the way he looked at us."
In two notebooks, she chronicled Mickel's stares and smirks and strangely timed smiles. She listened to his "cold voice." She noted at one point a "mean look" on his face. Another time, she wrote, the defendant "stared at me again and again. I'm scared."
Fellow juror Lederer approached the case differently. A 44-year-old shop teacher at Sutter Union High School, 18 miles from Colusa, Lederer was more methodical, less interested in feelings and emotions than the straight facts of the case. Since Mickel had already declared his guilt, Lederer was intrigued by the forensic evidence and other details of the investigation.
As Juror No. 12, Lederer sat in the opposite corner from Estess - front row, lower right-hand side - where he took only occasional notes.
"I'm more of a factual person. To tell you the truth," Lederer said, "during the guilt phase, I was writing things down just to stay in contact with what was going on."
But their differing styles would not clash in the jury room. Both would reflect later on how well the 12 jurors worked together, following the judge's instructions and taking care not to do anything to trigger a mistrial.
"Nobody wanted that to happen, to drag that family through this all over again," said Lederer, a composed, 6-foot-3 father of three who coaches youth football and Little League.
In his closing argument, Mickel startled jurors again, virtually taunting them into convicting him. "You'd have to be fools to find me innocent," he said.
By now, the trial had begun to take a toll on Estess emotionally. She had argued with her fiancé because, following the judge's orders, she would not talk about the case at home. At night, she would often awake with a jolt, fearing someone was in her home.
"I don't know how many times I just got up in the middle of the night to check the windows," she said.
Estess worried that Mickel's political beliefs meant he might have followers who would seek revenge against jurors. At times, she would drive out to River Road, near the Sacramento River, and sit in her car, thinking about the crime scene photos and reflecting on the case.
"I'd sit out there for a couple of hours trying to understand why I was feeling fear," she said. "That was the first time I had ever seen a murder in my life."
But she showed little fear in the courtroom, where she proved to be the tough, meticulous juror Poyner had anticipated. She continued to take notes as Mickel spoke in court, recording her thoughts about what he said in the closing arguments of the guilt phase.
" 'I would find me guilty,' " she wrote, in Mickel's words. "His face was so still, words just came out, no expression."
Ten minutes after they began their deliberations, the jury took a vote. Mickel was guilty.
"But we couldn't really go out there; it only took 10 minutes," Estess said. "It would look bad. So I said, 'Let's take a break.' "
The jury wandered around the courthouse for a few minutes. Some of the men stepped outside to smoke cigarettes. One lit a pipe.
Less than half an hour after starting deliberations, they decided enough time had passed, and they notified the bailiff that they had a verdict.
In Colusa, a large bell sits atop the courthouse, and the braided bell ropes hang down through holes in the ceiling in a second-floor hallway outside the only courtroom. The 144-year-old courthouse, which sits across Market Street from the Colusa County Farm Bureau, is the second-oldest courthouse still in use in California.
Traditions linger here. In the past, when verdicts were reached, courthouse officials ordered the bell rung.
Abel decided this was just such an occasion.
As television crews scrambled outside to record the bell's ringing, Dave Mobilio's family and friends moved back inside, through the temporary metal detector on loan from the Sheriff's Department that was set up at the foot of the 25 marble steps to Abel's court.
Mickel had remained in the courtroom, seated at the defense table. His parents had stayed, too, sitting quietly in the front row. They held hands and stared straight ahead at the judge's bench.
The jury filed in and handed their verdict to the bailiff, who passed it to the judge. No one was surprised when the verdict was announced: Mickel was guilty of first-degree murder. Mobilio's family and friends smiled in relief, while Linda Mobilio wiped tears from her face.
Stan Mickel gently placed his arm around his wife's shoulders.
It was April 5, a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and Mickel's parents slipped out a side door to avoid reporters.
The killer was led out the back in chains, past cameras and reporters, and placed in a police car waiting to return him to the Colusa jail. He would have all night to prepare for the next part of his plan.
The following day, as the penalty phase of the trial began, Mickel was ready to go. He had a court-appointed lawyer, James Reichle, sitting next to him to offer legal advice when needed, and his witnesses were lined up, including a former Pentagon intelligence expert who would discuss the government's ability to spy on citizens.
Mickel had a copy of the Army Ranger manual and the New Hampshire Constitution. He had the "Declaration of Renewed American Independence," which he had written in advance of the murder. He even had a few thoughts on Al Capone's involvement in the St. Valentine's Day massacre that he wanted to share with the jury, part of an effort to show how the government can exert too much control over its citizens.
"Al Capone had these people killed in order to gain control over the liquor market," Mickel explained earnestly. "Now, ever since Prohibition has been repealed, what's the last time you can think of seven people being executed and killed for control over the liquor market?
"It doesn't happen. Nobody kills other people in order to control the liquor market. But it happened when liquor was illegal."
To Mickel, Prohibition, the war on drugs and gun control were all examples of government overreaching. And he hoped to convince the jury that overreaching supported his case for the uprising and revolution that he hoped would be kicked off with the murder.
To the jurors, it ended up being "a lot of mumbo jumbo," Estess said.
"It didn't make sense to a lot of us, as far as what he was trying to tell us. Except that his freedom was being taken away, and we need to join him," she said.
By then, the prosecution had taken its turn and managed to crack the emotionless facade Mickel had so far maintained.
It was a riveting lineup.
Linda Mobilio took the stand, testifying about the life she and her husband had built before he was murdered.
"That first witness was the one I had dreaded, which was the wife," Estess said later. "It was just horrible."
Linda spoke for nearly an hour, weeping and recounting how she had learned of Dave's murder, how she had struggled to raise their son, Luke, alone, how her life was shattered.
"Everybody else was getting ready for Thanksgiving, and I was picking out burial clothes and caskets and plots, and I was figuring out wording for programs," she said between hard sobs. "And we didn't have Thanksgiving that year."
Linda described the months after the murder, how she had quit her teaching job and returned to Chico to be with her parents.
"The first several months are just a blur," she said. "I was numb. I just felt hopeless. It felt empty. It felt like the struggle of rebuilding was too great to tackle."
And there was Luke. On the stand, wearing a simple black dress, Linda Mobilio detailed how she eventually had to explain to her son what had happened to his dad.
"He wants to know why someone would do that to his dad that didn't even know him," she said. "Why would he take away what he had?"
Then, Linda looked directly at Mickel and shouted, "You have your father," forcing the judge to cut her off.
"Sorry," she said, then went on. "He wants to know when he is swinging if he can go high enough to get to his dad."
In the jury box, jurors were crying along with Linda. Some stared at Mickel, almost daring him to meet their glares. "I looked at him, and I was so angry," Estess said.
"This wasn't a poker-faced jury," said prosecutor Lynn Strom, who wore a charm with Mobilio's badge number throughout the trial. "A lot of times they are, and maybe it was because they just couldn't be, because this was so gut-wrenching.
"You could see the guy in the front row with his arms crossed, and the forewoman sitting up there in the back corner. I mean, if looks could kill, he'd have been dead."
Strom was glad they'd taken Poyner's advice about Estess, who was always paying close attention and wasn't afraid to show emotion. It seemed to her that Estess was "running the show from the get-go."
Estess had similar thoughts about Strom, whom she considered to be a "gutsy straight-shooter."
Andy Mickel was harder to read. Throughout most of Linda Mobilio's testimony, he sat stone-faced, staring down at the table or away from the widow. But after she finished and the judge ordered a break, Mickel sat alone, dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.
It was the first sign he gave of feeling pain for what he had done. The glimpse of emotion would not last long.
By midday, as Dave Mobilio's parents testified about their grief, Mickel had managed to find his composure, even in the face of the Mobilios' unending pain.
"I still can't think of the forever part," Laurie Mobilio said as Mickel watched impassively. "I just take it day by day. And you never know when it is going to hit."
Shopping for groceries, she said, she would pass by a cereal her son once loved, or have someone greet her with a "How is your day?" Sometimes she would flee the store.
"I can't tell you how many shopping carts I have left behind," she said. "I just leave the cart there. That will happen for the rest of our lives."
Many of Mobilio's colleagues from the Red Bluff Police Department also testified about their grief and the strain the murder had placed on their families.
But Mickel seemed unmoved, and by afternoon his turn came to begin his defense, during which he delivered a rambling discourse on the U.S. Constitution and government spying. He called an expert on government spying to the stand, as well as a state Department of Justice investigator who had helped trace his movements after the murder.
At times, he testified himself, rolling out theories about the USA Patriot Act, about the formation of the first municipal police force in London, about the Boston Tea Party and the rights of Americans to rebel against tyranny.
He summoned his parents to the stand, one after the other, apparently in an effort to show they knew nothing about his plan to kill a police officer and to prove they were the ones who had turned him in. But Mickel's unemotional countenance continued to work against him, especially as he questioned his weeping mother, even cutting her off before she could fully answer him.
On the stand, as she struggled to hold back tears, Karen Mickel described how she had asked her middle child the day before his arrest whether he had killed the police officer. He said he had.
"And I couldn't believe that the man I loved, who had been raised with our values, who had a career goal of being an Outward Bound instructor ... "
Mickel cut her off.
"She looks scared of him," Estess wrote on her notepad.
"I think she pretty much wanted to explain to us what a good kid he was, but he stopped it," Estess explained later. "And it was real cold. There were no feelings. Nothing."
Even Gary Lederer, who considered himself "more of a facts guy," was moved by Mickel's parents.
"We all felt for them," he said. "You could look at them and see the hope and everything just sucked out of them. The sadness. It didn't go unnoticed."
The next day was Thursday, and Mickel spent most of it on the stand, lecturing jurors about his views on patriotism and liberty. He continued to refer to Mobilio's murder as "this action," and to explain how he hoped it would spur Americans to rise up against an oppressive government.
On and on he went. Strom groaned to herself, thinking it was just like listening to a bad lecturer from her college days at California State University, Sacramento. The jurors became restless, too. Even Mickel's parents wondered what he was doing. At one point, Stan Mickel leaned over to his wife and said, "This is a filibuster."
The judge already had decided to give Andy Mickel the leeway to present his case in this phase, and the prosecutors made little move to challenge it, sure the payoff for their patience would come soon.
It arrived the next morning, when Mickel began to describe how he stalked the length of California, from the Oregon border to the desert near Yuma, Ariz., looking for the right place to kill a police officer, any police officer.
"And I'm going to describe what happened now, so if there is anybody who wants to leave then you should do that now," Mickel said, prompting members of Mobilio's family to walk out in disgust.
"The way he was talking up there was like a speech, not an emotional thing," Estess wrote in her notebook.
In fact, Mickel dispassionately described his execution of Mobilio twice, once in the morning and later under cross-examination by Cohen, who found himself momentarily speechless.
Mickel sat calmly in the witness chair, sometimes leaning forward to helpfully provide details about how he had picked the execution spot, how he had first spotted Dave Mobilio, how many times he had fired the weapon.
Mickel also clarified how he felt about the murder.
"I do feel that what I did was right," he said. "And I am extremely sorry for what I have done to Officer Mobilio's family.
"I'm not sorry for what I did to him specifically. And I would not change what I did to him specifically. I am sorry for the repercussions that that has had on other people, but I would not change what I have done."
Estess scribbled more notes as Mickel made his closing argument.
"He made sure he was dead," she wrote.
"Freedom is worth killing for," she jotted down after Mickel made that point.
It was not until Friday - four days into the penalty phase - that the jury began its deliberations: life vs. death. Chantelle Estess had returned to the courthouse that day wearing a red rose pinned to her lapel. Her 3-year-old son, sensing the magnitude of events, had given it to her during her lunch break.
"Good luck, Mommy," he said.
Estess wore it proudly, thinking of her cherished son - and of Linda Mobilio's son, not much older, now without a father.
The jury began its deliberations sometime after 4 p.m. Jurors talked briefly, and decided to take a preliminary vote.
Each juror wrote his or her verdict on a small piece of paper torn from a notepad. Estess collected them and read them to herself, then asked that they take a break.
When the jurors returned, they discussed the case some more - this time, Lederer recalled, playing devil's advocate with one another, almost arguing for life for Andy Mickel. Two jurors wondered aloud whether they could live with themselves if they voted for death.
Then they voted again, and Estess unfolded the small pieces of paper: Death. Death. Death. Death.
All 12 slips carried the same word, just as they had the first time. Estess had just wanted to be sure.
"It was very quiet," she recalled. "It was kind of like, 'This is what we have to do.' There was no crying. There was no doubt."
"We were all very much, I feel, at peace with our decision," Lederer said. "And even though it came about somewhat quickly, it didn't come about without thought."
The actual deliberations had taken about 10 minutes.
At two minutes to 5, the jury told the bailiff a verdict had been reached. The bell atop the courthouse began to toll.
Convicted cop killer Andy Mickel, in orange jumpsuit, smiles at his parents, Karen and Stan Mickel, right, after being sentenced to death at San Quentin State Prison. From the witness stand, Andy Mickel had lectured jurors about his views on patriotism and liberty. He referred to Officer Dave Mobilio's murder as "this action" and said he hoped it would spur Americans to rise up against an oppressive government.
What a patriot he shoots a hunter/gunowner in the back. I dont know how you guys in LE restrain yourselves, if I was close enough to that POS I think I would kill him.
I will never understand people like this guy, what the hell made him think anything he could do would make the American people rise up against the "government"? Why does he think he's so important that people would follow him, must be something that liberal school pumped into his head. I only wish that the professor(s) at the school of liberal wonderfulness would get the same hotshot he's going to get.
That is one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever read.
It's weird how people twist bad people into being like their enemy.
It must be very convenient to label this, obviously anti-democrat, person as a "liberal" and tainted with "liberal" ideals, no matter how completely wrong it is.
This guy didnt shoot the cop so people could have abortions, he shot the cop because he believed that the government was too restrictive. A very Republican ideal.
He doesnt reflect anything republican or democrat, though. He is a murderous scum. There is no reason to attempt to demonize potential influences just because it fits your selfish views.
Maybe you can somehow tie him to Saddam Hussein, next. Whatever.
Rest in Peace Office Mobilio.
May Luke Mobilio always carry the peace in his heart knowing that his daddy was a True Blue Hero
I wonder why they have not added part 5 yet.
Part 5: Moving ahead
RED BLUFF, CA - In the early morning hours of April 28, Andy Mickel left Red Bluff for the last time.
Sentenced to death for the murder of Red Bluff Police Officer Dave Mobilio, he was quietly moved from the Tehama County jail to his permanent home in California: San Quentin State Prison.
Mickel was 26 years old; Mobilio would have turned 34 last Saturday.
For many in Red Bluff and Colusa, Mickel's departure - and his death sentence - opened the window of closure. Mobilio had been gone for 2 1/2 years, ambushed and executed at a Red Bluff gas station on Nov. 19, 2002, a night he wasn't even supposed to be working.
Over and over, residents had asked: Why Red Bluff? Why Dave?
By the time a Colusa County jury convicted Mickel of first-degree murder on April 5, and the judge affirmed the jurors' recommended punishment, those questions had been answered.
Bit by bit, life in Red Bluff returned to normal.
After briefly using different gas stations for safety, Red Bluff officers insisted on returning to the scene of the murder to refuel their cars. A security camera and lighting have been added at the insistence of Linda Mobilio, Dave's widow.
Three of the four Red Bluff officers who had left the force for better pay in Redding decided to return to Red Bluff after the murder.
"We all have to move forward; our people have to move forward, as well," said Red Bluff Police Chief Al Shamblin. "It doesn't mean we're going to forget Dave.
"We're never going to forget Dave."
But closure is not a concept easily embraced by those who were closest to the victim - or to his killer, whose actions defy full explanation. The story goes on and on, with new chapters written daily in shattered lives and altered paths.
Mobilio's only child, Luke - 19 months old at the time of the murder - is 4 and excited about entering pre-kindergarten this fall. But he hasn't forgotten his dad.
"Mommy, you're so lucky," he told Linda Mobilio one recent morning.
"Why, Luke?" she asked.
"You got to know my dad a lot longer than I did."
The pain is still acutely visible in the faces of the parents - both Mobilio's and Mickel's.
Chantelle Estess, forewoman of the jury that convicted Mickel in April and sentenced him to die, sees the anguish on both sides of this story.
"There are two mothers," she said, "who will never hold their sons again."
Dave Mobilio is buried in Chico, where he met his wife. His parents, Richard and Laurie, had another headstone placed at the Madronia Cemetery near their home in Saratoga so they can visit more often and reflect on their remarkable son.
Richard and Laurie Mobilio struggle with their emotions as they describe the agony of life without son Dave. "The regret is the future we lost with him," his mother says as his father openly weeps.
But for them life has changed forever.
"The agony is, you can't escape it," said Richard Mobilio.
One person, one decision, one brutal act, has altered the course of many lives - in Red Bluff, in Colusa, in Saratoga and in Springfield, Ohio.
In the aftermath of the trial, these are their stories.
Andy Mickel, an Ohio boy who grew up digging worms with a neighbor girl and winning high school acting awards, will live out his remaining days in an aging, infamous prison on a beautiful stretch of land edging San Francisco Bay. San Quentin, which houses all of California's condemned male inmates, is almost medieval, with echoing hallways and clanking doors.
Mickel is inmate No. V77400.
By the time he stood trial, Mickel had been locked up in California long enough to watch the 2003 gubernatorial recall election from jail, telling a friend in a letter that he thought Arnold Schwarzenegger's election was "very funny" and his campaign "a joke."
Mickel will not be executed any time soon.
Unlike in Texas or other death penalty states, California's process for those sentenced to die is exceedingly slow. Under state law, Mickel's death penalty conviction will be appealed automatically to the state Supreme Court, and that process alone will take years. He is not likely even to be assigned an appellate lawyer for at least five years.
Mickel will reside alone in a 6-by-10-foot cell on death row with 640 others, some of whom have been there more than 25 years.
Among the 11 executed since 1992, the average wait has been about 16 years.
While no one disputes his guilt, friends of Mickel and his family do question whether justice was served for a man they believe is desperately mentally ill. Before his extradition to California, a judge in New Hampshire had ordered Mickel to undergo a competency exam, a report that remains sealed.
Once in California, Mickel - who wanted a public platform for his ideas - refused to have his competency evaluated. In California, only the judge and the defendant or his attorney can halt the proceedings to have the accused examined for mental competency.
Had he chosen to do so, Mickel could have pursued an insanity defense, potentially escaping the death penalty.
But Mickel, who represented himself with help from an advisory counsel who offered help or advice when Mickel asked for it, did not choose this path. Nor did the judge.
"It just seems like there's no advocate for him, " said Judi Smith of Springfield, a neighbor of Mickel's parents who has known him since he was a child. "I'm not exonerating Andy because I think he has mental illness - but I think he has mental illness. And it breaks my heart they're taking a mentally ill person's word that he doesn't need help."
Smith's daughter, 25-year-old Rachel Wilson, was among those who wrote impassioned pleas to Colusa Superior Court Judge S. William Abel, asking him to spare her friend's life. She was the neighbor girl who joined Mickel in little adventures and, as a teen, walked alongside him at Prom Court.
"I'll never understand what Andy did or why he did it," wrote Wilson, who had known Mickel from the first grade and considered him a dear friend. "As a Christian, I pray for Andy ... Please, show mercy to Andy and spare his life."
Wilson believes her lifelong friend may be suffering from schizophrenia. If he were ever treated, and realized the enormity of what he had done, he would "just be overcome," she said.
Another close childhood friend, Griffin House, urged the judge in an e-mail to show "compassion and forgiveness."
"I know he is claiming sanity, and I believe he would be terribly upset with me for saying that he is mentally ill, but I don't see how Andy could possibly be in his right mind," wrote House, a 25-year-old musician living in Nashville. "I want to ask from one human to another to look at Andy as someone who is sick and needs to be helped and loved and cared for, not exterminated."
What psychiatric treatment Mickel is getting in San Quentin, if any, is not a matter of public record. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections said she couldn't comment on any aspect of Mickel's health because of privacy laws. But all inmates are evaluated, she said, and those identified with mental health conditions are given appropriate medication and regular contact with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
In a jailhouse interview with The Bee before he was shipped to San Quentin, Mickel pointedly rejected any notion that he suffered from a mental illness.
He made it clear at trial that he would not seek an insanity defense, and James Reichle, a former district attorney in Sierra and Plumas counties who was his advisory counsel, thought Mickel perfectly capable of understanding the proceedings and putting forth a defense.
"You obviously have to get the idea in dealing with him that his mind functions a bit differently than other people's do," said Reichle, who lives near Quincy. "But he's also extremely intelligent and he's extremely articulate ...
"You can't say he's incompetent in any functional sense in terms of not understanding things."
Reichle said Mickel was "adamant" that he did not want to pursue an insanity defense. And given the planning and preparation he undertook for the murder, Reichle said, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway.
"Yes, you can be mentally ill, but if you understand what you're doing, and if you understand the consequences of what you're doing, under the criminal law you're responsible," he said.
"California does not give you a break if you're mentally ill."
Mickel has recently acknowledged he has bouts of depression. In a letter to Ben Poston from the Tehama County jail, he told his childhood friend that "one good thing about jail is that it gave me an opportunity to directly see my depression ...
"I had lied to myself about having depression for a long time," he wrote, then segued into chitchat about his parents, brothers and the beauty of Cincinnati.
He signed the letter: "Later Bro, Andy."
Stan and Karen Mickel do not want to discuss in any detail their son's case or possible mental condition - a lawyer has advised against it, they say - but the toll it has taken on them is obvious. The two, who traveled to California and remained throughout the trial, have appeared haggard and worn in recent months.
When they returned home from California following the trial, neighbor Judi Smith's husband, Richard, couldn't help noticing his frail-looking neighbors, out for a stroll in their tree-lined neighborhood.
"He said they just looked like if you touched them, they'd fall over," said Smith, a third-grade teacher and mother of four.
Inside the Mickels' comfortable two-story home, which they share with an enthusiastic black Lab, the couple recently displayed a collage of childhood photos of Andy that they keep neatly framed - Andy in a high chair, Andy as a teenager on a Monterey beach, Andy as a soldier.
A senior portrait of Andy that Stan Mickel keeps in his wallet now has his son's San Quentin information taped to the protective plastic.
The murder is a hard matter for them to escape in a town of 65,000 where Stan Mickel still teaches at Wittenberg University and Karen, a math teacher at nearby Dayton University, once served on the school board.
The story has drifted from the local news, but memories rush back in other ways.
In November 2002, when the Mickels realized what their son had done, they decided to turn him in. The person they sought out for help was police Capt. Stephen Moody, who was elevated to the chief's position just two months later.
Moody, a Springfield native who had known the couple for years before the crime, considered their decision courageous. He feels certain that Andy Mickel was raised in a "compassionate home." But to this day, he feels uncomfortable when he encounters the Mickels around town, wondering if his mere presence reminds them of their worst moment.
"What bothers me, when we see each other - my concern is, 'What does that bring up in their minds? Does it bring it all back to the surface?' " said the 49-year-old chief, the father of five. "Because that was the night they had to confront this, and then deal with it.
"It makes you feel bad."
The Mickels say they plan to visit their son in prison. Several of his friends would like to visit, also.
Yet for a 26-year-old man from a small city in Ohio, who grew up in a sheltered suburban pocket with neatly kept lawns and lush trees, the neighborhood has certainly changed. Among his fellow death row prisoners are Richard Allen Davis, who kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas; mass murderer Charles Ng; "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez; and a more recent addition, Scott Peterson of Modesto, sentenced to die for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son.
Andy Mickel says he expected, even planned, for this, going so far as to visit a Washington state prison before the murder. In the jailhouse interview three days before he was sentenced to death, Mickel said he had apologized to his family but had no regrets.
While in jail over the past 2 1/2 years, he said he prayed about his decision to murder a cop and felt that decision was spiritually affirmed.
"There was no other course I really could've taken," he said, speaking in flat, calm tones from behind the glass partition of Station 7 at the Tehama County jail, where the fluorescent lighting accentuated his pale skin.
"I don't want to be doing the wrong thing. I want to be doing the right thing."
As in Springfield, the news in Red Bluff has drifted back to the more mundane. Instead of daily stories on the life and death of Dave Mobilio and the trial of Andy Mickel, the Red Bluff Daily News has moved on to other items of interest: the selection of a building site for Tehama College. The arraignment of a man accused of killing his girlfriend's kitten. The police department's latest sobriety checkpoint.
Routines have resumed.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen is making plans to run for a third term in office after the current one expires in December 2006.
Deputy District Attorney Lynn Strom no longer has nightmares about Mickel and is still hard at work, balancing career and family. Her first case following Mickel's: a marijuana bust involving three plants growing in a pot atop the suspect's TV.
Jury forewoman Chantelle Estess signed on with Keller Williams Realty in Yuba City and has sold two houses. She was the only woman to compete in June in the demolition derby at the Colusa County Fair, where her fiancé cheered her on in her '68 Dodge New Yorker. She plans to get married in September at Lake Tahoe.
Her transition from capital murder trial to everyday life has not been seamless. Estess finds she isn't so trusting of strangers anymore. Shortly after the verdict, Estess overheard a woman at Rainbow Market loudly exclaim: "There's the woman who put that guy to death!"
Estess wheeled around the corner and retorted: "It's a good thing you weren't on the jury, or he'd be let free."
The turning point in the healing was, for some, the trial - a long-awaited event especially crucial for Mobilio's fellow officers, who led the chorus asking:
Why Red Bluff? Why Dave?
"That was the only thing they wanted out of this trial," said police Chaplain Ron Fortenberry, who was called to the scene the night of the murder, and would later help notify Mobilio's young widow. "I think the answer really did do some healing for those cops."
But scars remain.
Fortenberry does his job differently now. Chagrined that he did not know Linda Mobilio the night her husband died, he makes a point of going on ride-alongs with Red Bluff police officers and taking their wives up on dinner invitations.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't go by that gas station and see Dave on the ground," said the father of three.
Brett McAllister, the Red Bluff patrolman whose shift Mobilio had to fill that night, still feels guilt that he wasn't the one at the station.
"If I hadn't called in that night, maybe it would have been me and not Dave," McAllister said in court. "I know it's not my fault. But there is still a tremendous amount of guilt, which is just something that is going to take time to get over."
The trial proved to be hard on Linda Mobilio, who moved back to Chico shortly after the murder and is ready to get on with her life. She resumed teaching a combination second-and third-grade class in the fall of 2004 - a team-teaching position in Magalia, 18 miles northeast of Chico.
"Every time I discuss what this has done to me, I spiral backwards, then have to work to bring myself back up again," she told The Bee. "You have no idea how difficult this has been. The trial opened all of my old, deep wounds, and I am finally feeling a bit of relief from all the months of sorrow, hurt and pain."
She declined to discuss the case in detail or allow her son to be photographed, saying that "for the past 2 1/2 years I have done nothing but be consumed with Dave's death, and now am very anxious to move on with my life."
She is engaged to be remarried this fall to a deputy with the Butte County Sheriff's Department. The couple will live in Chico, where Linda plans to quit teaching and become a full-time mom to 4-year-old Luke, whom she describes as a "healthy, sensitive and loving, extremely bright and active youngster."
Mobilio's parents, Richard and Laurie Mobilio, see their grandson often and are buoyed by his and Linda's presence. But the pain of their son's loss is present at every family gathering, every birthday, every holiday.
They stopped hanging the Christmas stockings for Dave, Linda and Luke on their fireplace after Dave's death. But they have added a new tradition: every year they decorate "a David Tree," a small pine strung with blue lights and blue ribbon and photographs to honor their only son and his police work.
Stan and Karen Mickel sent them letters shortly after the murder, but they've never felt strong enough to open them. Their anguish remains palpable. Richard Mobilio wonders if he'll ever heal.
They are back at work and are grateful for a strong, enduring marriage. Despite the heartache, they do not look at their life with Dave and nurse regrets.
"It wasn't as if he didn't know how proud we were of him," Laurie said softly, while Richard openly wept. "He knew how happy we were for him. I knew how much he loved us. There were none of those things left unsaid that one could regret.
"The regret is the future we lost with him."
A granite memorial at Jackson Heights Elementary School in Red Bluff honors Dave Mobilio, who, as "DAREman Dave" taught youngsters to avoid drugs. A school penny drive raised thousands of dollars for the monument.
About the writer:
The Bee's Marjie Lundstrom can be reached at (916) 321-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bee's Sam Stanton can be reached at (916) 321-1091 or email@example.com.
Thanks for posting.
Tag for later
Are you fucking retarded? He didn't call him a liberal. He was reffering to the school and it's teaching staff....
Sounds like pretty liberal school for our republican army ranger, but what do I know
Dave Mobilio was a hero and will be missed, but not forgotten.
Wow those pctures do really hit the heart. Rest in Pease officer.....
His rantings sound familiar..... Anybody hang out in General Discussions lately?
Rest in Peace, brother.
Notice the silence from the usual GD crowd? They certainly know this thread is here, they cruise this forum like bangers looking for a drive-by.
That's tacit approval in my book.
Tag for later
R.I.P officer Mobilio
Is what I don't get with people like this POS is why they blame LE for the laws. Why is it so hard for fucking morons like him to understand LE does not make the laws. I agree with the fact the gov is getting over reaching but what the hell does that have to do with LE.
If the POS would have put those rounds through Dianne Feinstein's head I would have thrown a party for him. Instead the POS Shoots and innocent person simply doing their job.
I hope he rots in hell.
tag. about the saddest thing I have ever read.
This guy needs a razor blade enema. After his eyeballs and sliced with an exacto knife.
How did I miss this thread? Thanks for the story Nor_Cal.
Not halfway done with the first part of the story and I'm already pissed off.
Tag for later.
so since they have not posted here already by a time that you've determined, they are silently agreeing to this murder?
I've seen some leaps of logic here before but that one is a definite moon shot.
One question, though - the article specifically calls the bullets used as armor-piercing. True, or media hype?
Well, enough of them certainly advocate it often enough. Might be nice for a few of them to read about what they actually talk about doing with so little thought. I also bet none of them ever think about their words actually convincing someone else to do it.
But, I would not be surprised to find a few of them silently cheering.
Rip for the officer... anyone catch the line about AP ammo being used
What a total piece of shit that killer is , I think they should let deceased hero's coworkers carry out the execution by drawing and quartering in public, slowly, oh so slowly.