Mel's Angels

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Williams didn't take kindly to the affront, noting in a police report, "The language of the letter caused me to have concerns that Mr. McDonald was attempting to influence the course of my investigation."

Of course McDonald was trying to influence the investigation. That's what aggressive attorneys do.

But McDonald seemed oblivious to the irony that Gilbert police were playing hardball with this teenager, while they'd coddled his relative, Patty Lake.

In August 1995, a 16-year-old Gilbert boy rammed into a car at Cooper and Elliot roads, killing three and gravely injuring two others. The boy said he'd fallen asleep behind the wheel, a claim Gilbert police doubted after they found skid marks at the scene.

The boy's family hired Mel McDonald. He engaged Gilbert PD in full-scale war, later proving to the satisfaction of prosecutors that the skid marks had come from another vehicle.

But some Gilbert cops didn't see how McDonald could be a Gilbert councilman while also taking on cases potentially embarrassing to his city.

McDonald claims a reporter for Tribune Newspapers contacted him around that time. The writer told him an unnamed Gilbert cop had slipped her records about the Lake molestation case and an unrelated report.

"[The reporter] assured me . . . that the two police reports were filed where they belonged--in the trash," McDonald said in a letter last April to County Attorney Richard Romley.

Tribune Newspapers did publish a story August 15, 1995, which focused only on McDonald's alleged conflict-of-interest issue concerning the 13-year-old girl and the triple fatality. (Just weeks ago, the Tribune published a glowing portrait of McDonald, titled "Hard fighter with a soft heart." The piece began, "The only role A. Melvin McDonald hasn't played in Arizona's legal system is the accused.")

Two days after the news story about the conflicts of interest appeared, Todd Baty verbally complained about McDonald and the Lake case to a prosecutor. He then elaborated in a two-page memo to the County Attorney's Office.

"In reviewing the original report and related supplements from the Gilbert Police Department," Baty wrote in requesting an investigation, "I've been unable to locate a pursuit of justice."

On September 22, 1995, the office assigned prosecutor Dorothy Macias and investigator Susan Lindley to the "Mel McDonald thing." Chief deputy Paul Ahler says Macias and Lindley were "the best people we had in their positions to put on it."

They are known for their professional diligence.
Last May, a pregnant Macias insisted on finishing her closing argument in an unrelated child-molestation case after her water broke. (The defendant was convicted; Macias later resigned to be a full-time mother.) Lindley has earned honors for her solid mix of compassion and information gathering.

The obstacles they faced were evident.
Years had passed. Memories had faded. Fingers were being pointed. Butts were being covered. Few were interested in having the case revived.

It isn't certain what Tim Brooks, nearing his 14th birthday, wanted. No one in authority had bothered to speak to the boy since the day he called the Gilbert Police Department.

The presence of Macias and Lindley seemed to indicate that the county attorney's top brass weren't going to let the Patty Lake case be swept under the rug again. The two pulled few punches during their months-long series of interviews.

"Do you have any idea why the victim wasn't interviewed by an investigator in this case?" Macias asked Gilbert police lieutenant Jack Young in November 1995.

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't get copies of anything that Phoenix PD did on file?"

"Do you have any idea why an investigator didn't talk to the suspect in this case?"

"Do you have any idea why the investigator in this case only essentially discussed the case with [Mel McDonald] and then made a phone call to the suspect's counselor?"

"No, other than . . . something happened in Phoenix and it was just my understanding that the whole thing was being taken over by Phoenix."

Macias also gave Gilbert detective Randy McLaws the third degree:
"[Tim Brooks] said, 'I think she should be put in jail and not do this again.' So from a victim's standpoint, what did he get out of this investigation. What did this 10-year-old learn about going to the police?"

"The victim went to report that crime just as part of therapy," McLaws replied. "The case had already been investigated by the police--that's how it was delivered to me. . . . Do we put the scope of the judicial system and the adjudication of [Patty Lake] in the hands of a 10-year-old?"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin