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Murder, Incorporated?

Through bulletproof glass, speaking over an intercom, Mickel produces diplomas from his time in the Army and holds them up to the smeary window. Basic training. His Ranger School course. Airborne jump school. His honorary discharge. He looks his visitor in the eye, but is evasive in his answers.

How did he like the Army?

Andrew Mickel, accused of killing California police officer David Mobilio, says he incorporated as "Proud and Insolent Youth." (Jim Cole -- AP)

"Good and bad," Mickel says without any real emotion. "I enjoyed it. Lots of good people. But pretty regimented." He shrugs. Like, whatever.

How did he pick the assumed name McCrae? (One of his friends back in Ohio guessed that it was a reference to "Digger McCrae," a comic book super-thief.) "Where did you get that?" he asks and shakes his head. Now he looks perturbed. No, Mickel says, he chose the name from the character Augustus McCrae, the ex-Texas Ranger in the Larry McMurtry novel "Lonesome Dove."

Why is he representing himself? "From the beginning," he says, "I knew that's the way it had to be." Why? "I do think I'm doing something important." He looks like he has a secret he is just dying to tell. But he won't.

One of his friends says Mickel told him he was amassing a document -- hundreds of pages long -- that will explain all. Mickel has referred to this still-unreleased manifesto as "the Whopper."

Mickel won't divulge the Whopper's contents. He won't answer questions about his case's similarity to McVeigh or Kaczynski. It all starts to feel like a tease. That there is no further explanation. That his Internet postings are about it.

Mickel interrupts and asks his visitor's angle on the case. "All my friends think I'm insane and they don't understand," Mickel says. Then he watches the reporter jot that down and says, "Don't write that part down."

The insane part or the friends part? he is asked. Mickel warns the reporter that he is not some "lone wolf" or "some crazy Ted Kaczynski."

Then what is he? Mickel is asked. What's your defense? "I'm not going into that," he says. "It'll all be out there in court."

He admits that he suffers from depression, but is dealing with it. Is he taking medication? He's not going to get into that. "I've learned a lot about myself while in jail," he says. "Not to sound cheesy, but it's been a growing experience for me."

Later in the 30-minute interview, Mickel tries to explain his cause. "Everyone thinks I did this to get media attention and to read about myself in the newspaper," he says. That is "absurd," he says. "I do think I'm doing something important and that people understand what this is about. I want the media to cover this for that purpose. Not for me."

What does he think of the coverage so far? "I don't think they like me," Mickel says. And in this moment, he seems like a big, dumb, very dangerous kid.

So why wasn't another psychiatric evaluation performed? Because no one asked. That is the way the judicial system works. Mickel had pushed his parents away. They have not hired another lawyer.

In California, Mickel's request to represent himself was granted by a judge in Tehama County, who could have independently ordered a mental exam but did not.

A Question of Competency

The district attorney prosecuting the case, Gregg Cohen, declined to be interviewed for this article, but in the hallway of the courthouse in Colusa, he said there had not been any competency hearing for Mickel "because that was dealt with in New Hampshire."

In pretrial proceedings, Colusa County Superior Court Judge S. William Abel did not raise the issue of competency, nor has Mickel, nor has the attorney James Reichle, who was appointed to serve as Mickel's "advisory counsel."

Reichle says Mickel meets all the legal requirements of mental competency: He is aware of his surroundings, the charges and the possible penalty, and engaged in his own defense. "And the law is that if you are competent enough to waive the right to an attorney, then you are competent enough to represent yourself," Reichle says. "A normal person could ask how could anyone sane do this, but that is not a legal issue."

As for Mickel's depression, Reichle says: "Everybody in America is on Prozac."

Reichle, a former prosecutor, now semi-retired, takes a libertarian stance on the case -- Mickel remains adamant that his history of depression should remain out of bounds, Reichle says, and he believes the defendant should have that right.

"He is sensitive about it because he wants to make a statement and he doesn't want the jury to see him as some crazy wacko," Reichle says.

Of course, his parents are going to say he's crazy, Reichle says. But Mickel "is extremely bright," his advisory counsel observes. "He just thinks differently from you and me."

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