70-year-old aimed gun at family before firing — (Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette)

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Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

By Rebecca S. Green, The Journal Gazette  rgreen@jg.net

May 6, 2006

Gunman who shot officer admits guilt

Seventy-year-old Melvin Bell Sr. admitted Friday to shooting a Fort Wayne police officer and pointing the handgun at family members on Jan. 19.

The widower pleaded guilty to battery and additional charges of criminal recklessness and two counts of pointing a firearm, all felonies. When he is sentenced in June, he faces up to eight years in prison.

In exchange for his plea, prosecutors will drop an attempted murder charge against Bell. That charge would have carried a sentence of 20 to 50 years.

Bell was shot by Fort Wayne police officer Cory Thomas after he fired at officer Darrell Caudill, hitting him in the chest. Caudill was wearing a ballistic vest, which protected the area, but he suffered a bruised rib.

Bell spent a few days in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds.

The two officers had been called to a Gay Street home after a family member called 911, saying Bell was armed with a handgun and threatening family members.

Bell appeared in the front doorway of the home after police arrived. The officers ordered him to drop the gun, but Bell raised the gun in the direction of the police.

Caudill fired beanbag rounds at Bell, but Bell fired at Caudill. Thomas then fired live rounds at Bell, striking him.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Bell’s Indianapolis-based attorney Terrance Kinnard told Magistrate Robert J. Schmoll that Bell suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and had been hospitalized for the conditions in February and March. Kinnard said Bell was taking medication.

At the time of the shooting, family members said that Bell was not coping well with the loss of his wife of 45 years, who died in July. Police also believed alcohol was a factor in the shooting.

Deputy Prosecutor Steve Godfrey said Bell’s plea agreement had been cleared with the officers involved, and that they were “on board” with the arrangement.

As part of the agreement, Bell will get continued mental health treatment during any time served on probation.

However, prosecutors did not make any request as to possible penalties for Bell.

Kinnard said during the hearing that because the crime involved the use of a firearm, a prison sentence could not be suspended.

Schmoll suggested that the attorneys include in the plea agreement that they do not object to Bell serving time on home detention. Schmoll took the plea under advisement.