Eleven years after Ellie Nesler pulled a gun from her purse in a courtroom and gunned down the man accused of molesting her 12-year-old son, police are hunting for her son, now 23, and a fugitive on a attempted murder charge.
Relatives say they've heard from William Nesler a few times since police put him on the wanted list, and they are urging him to turn himself in to a local bounty hunter.
"We told him he needs to come in, but he said the sheriffs are going to kill him," said one of his aunts, speaking on condition of anonymity, and adding that the family doesn't know where Nesler is.
Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who got to know the Nesler family more than a decade ago, said he's talked with an FBI agent about helping bring Nesler in safely if he surrenders.
Police say William Nesler, 23, severely beat neighbor David Davis, 45, early Sunday, less than an hour after being released from jail for having beaten Davis a month earlier in a fight over tools.
Davis was found unconscious and bleeding from head wounds when officers arrived near dawn at a lot littered with trailers, trash and cars on blocks where the two men lived. A warrant for Nesler's arrest was issued Tuesday, the day after Davis died at a Modesto hospital from massive head wounds.
Nesler is well known to police - he was booked on 18 separate cases over five years as an adult and has a juvenile record - but he is also known to the public, because of his mother's vigilante act.
Ellie Nesler ignited a national debate when she walked into a courtroom on April 2, 1993, and shot twice-convicted child molester Daniel Driver, 35, five times in the head as he faced seven molestation charges, including one related to her young son.
Nesler, both derided by some for taking the law into her own hands and praised by others for exacting her own justice, served only three years of a 10-year manslaughter sentence when a court overturned the conviction due to juror misconduct. She is now in a California prison on charges related to manufacturing methamphetamine.
Neighbors said her son continued to live on the family's property, which was crowded with more than a half dozen trailers and strewn with junk. William Nesler is described as 6-foot-2, weighing 225 pounds and covered in tattoos.
Davis' mother, Rita Brown, said her son, disabled from years of work in oil fields in Wyoming, had been hired to clean up Nesler's property and was living in a shack on the lot.
The Neslers were cited for numerous code violations for a collection of trailers in which people were illegally living on the one-acre garbage-strewn lot, said Bev Shane, director of the Tuolumne County Community Development Department.
Many of the trailers and much of the trash has been removed, but the lot is still an eyesore.
Brown said she was appalled when she went there to collect her son's things after Davis was removed from life support Monday at a Modesto hospital.
"It's a horrible piece of property," Brown said. "His friends said, 'You should have seen it before David started the cleaning."'
Brown said her son's remains will be cremated and his ashes would be scattered in the two places he loved most: off the coast of Santa Barbara, where he scuba dived; and in the mountains near Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
She said she never met Nesler but remembered sympathizing with him after his mother's act of revenge. That sentiment is now gone.
"He needs to be in jail for the rest of his life," Brown said. "He is obviously very disturbed and very dangerous."
On June 24, police were called out to the one-acre lot surrounded by barbed wire after Davis complained that Nesler stole his tools. When officers arrived to sort out the dispute, Nesler allegedly charged at Davis and began kicking and beating him.
Officers noted in the arrest report that after being read his rights, Nesler said he didn't want to talk, he wanted to be booked and go to court so he could start doing his time. "He's lucky I didn't kill him," Nesler allegedly told them.
Sentenced to 60 days in jail for battery, he served only 32, getting an early release because of good behavior and other credits such as one to alleviate crowding, according to police records. The sentence also included a restraining order to stay 100 yards from Davis.
Nesler was released at 4 a.m. Sunday, records show, and the beating happened about an hour later.
Tuolumne County authorities say police believe that Nesler is still in the state and they are focusing their search in his home county and in neighboring Calaveras and Mariposa counties.
Police have been searching former gold rush towns in the Sierra Nevada foothills now better known as tourist stops on Highway 49. "He's out and about," Dittberner said. "He could be anywhere."
By Brian Melley