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Manteca mom fears son’s murderer may soon walk free

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Manteca mom fears son’s murderer may soon walk free

Doris Morgan holds the last photograph taken of her son – Michael McDonald - who is shown with his grandmother Lena Van Velzer in August 1983.

DENNIS WYATT/The Bulletin


POSTED March 2, 2010 1:56 a.m.
Michael McDonald was a happy-go-lucky kid.

He did what kids growing up in rural Manteca did 30-plus years ago.

He rode his bicycle to New Haven School. Mike, along with his stepbrother Rusty, would give their mother fits by hooking up a makeshift carriage to their Shetland pony and taking off down what was then a much quieter Cottage Avenue.

He sang in the First Baptist Church choir, the same church he was baptized in.

In high school, he was a member of the East Union FFA and proudly showed both his beef and swine projects at competitions. Mike was a four-year honor student at East Union High where he graduated in 1973. He also ran track for the Lancers.

Although he wasn’t much into sports in high school, after leaving Manteca the Cerritos College graduate got into everything from snow skiing and water skiing to surfing.

At age 27, he was living in Downey where he was buying a Spanish-style house while working with his father in a successful burglary alarm business. The entire world lay ahead of him as the strapping, easy going, 6-foot-3, 195-pounder started seriously thinking about getting married and starting a family.

That, however, would not happen.

Mike was murdered in cold blood at the front door of his home by William Walter Nichols who also killed Susan Mendrin, 25, whom Mike had just met six weeks prior.

Nichols was Mendrin’s ex-boyfriend. She had gone to Mike’s house for their third date. Nichols waited around the corner until she reached Mike’s front door. He then ran his pickup across the lawn. Startled, Susan screamed and Mike started out of the house to protect Susan. Before he got through the screen door, though, Nichols shot Mike three times using a .357 Magnum with one bullet ripping through his heart. Nichols turned the gun on Susan and shot her twice in the head.

Before police caught Nichols he almost killed two other people outside of a convenience store.

Nichols did not know Mike. It was clear that whoever came through that door on Sept. 13, 1983 that Nichols was going to kill them.

Doris Morgan had to do what no mother should have to do – bury her own child.

Making it worse, however, is the knowledge that her son’s killer could go free after May 11, 2010 unless she can prove to the parole board that he should not be released.

This will be Nichols’ fourth parole hearing. He was eligible after 14 years on his sentence of two concurrent 25 years to life sentences for each murder victim. In the past the board told the Morgans that letters and petitions from the community helped sway the board as Nichols had been what they called “a model prisoner.”

That “model prisoner” was able to get conjugal visits thanks to rules advocated and signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown. Nichols married and had a child while behind bars. A child, since his dad did not have means of providing financial support, that likely received welfare from the pockets of law-abiding citizens of California including Doris and Joe Morgan.

“It’s not right that he can marry and have a son but my son never was able to do the same,” Doris said Monday.

She is again starting a collection of signatures on petitions and is hoping to get others to send letters as well to the parole board before she makes the trip with her husband as well as Janet and Mark Keson to Blythe to fight Nichols’ potential parole from Ironwood State Prison.

The Kesons have accompanied the Morgans three times on that painful trip south.

The Kesons’ daughter Darlene Paris, 23, was one of the four victims of the 1992 Salida Massacre where four people in a duplex were beaten, stabbed and then had their throats slashed so severely that it almost detached their heads by five members of a satanic cult.

His mother’s biggest fear is that with the push to clear out the prisons of inmates and the fact Nichols has been lauded as a model prisoner, that the parole board might just give in to such pressure to release her son’s murderer after 27 years.

“We fear for our lives and everyone else’s as well,” she said. “He killed a complete stranger.”
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