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Marine deserter charged in murder was ‘losing his mind,’ mother testifies

The mother of a Marine charge with desertion and the murder of his stepfather testified in a Virginia court Wednesday that when she saw her son in October 2019 and again weeks later when he allegedly killed her husband that his actions were ‘erratic’ and it seemed like he was ‘losing his mind.’

Cpl. Michael Alexander Brown was in state court where a judge ultimately certified murder and weapons charges against him, sending the charges to a grand jury in July for a likely indictment.

Michael Brown, a combat engineer assigned to 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was listed as a deserter after failing to report for duty on Oct. 24, 2019. He led police and other agents on a weekslong manhunt and landed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List before being apprehended Nov. 27, 2019, in the home near Roanoke, Virginia, where he is alleged to have shot his stepfather, Rodney Wilfred Brown, 54, on Nov. 9, 2019.

Vanessa Hanson, Brown’s mother and Rodney Brown’s wife, characterized her son as “not my Michael” when she saw him first on Halloween and then again on Nov. 9, 2019, according to testimony shared with Marine Corps Times by his attorney, Deborah Caldwell-Bono.

Hanson testified that her son spoke with a “pressured,” “deep” and “urgent” voice and told her on Halloween that “he wasn’t Michael anymore.”

Michael Brown never told his mother he would kill Rodney Brown, according to his attorney, but did say that he would, “whip Rodney’s a** if he ever beat up on (Hanson) again, that he wasn’t a little boy anymore.”

Caldwell-Bono also told Marine Corps Times that during the Wednesday hearing Hanson’s history of mental health struggles, including two yearlong stays in mental health institutions, were entered into the record as evidence.

Hanson did not see Michael Brown shoot Rodney Brown, but testified that Rodney Brown had gone outside the home to put coolant in his vehicle, she heard some noises, came outside to see Michael Brown, and then went back inside.

Though it was a “somber” day for her client, Caldwell-Bono said that Michael Brown was more concerned with his mother’s mental state and having to testify over anything else.

Commonwealth attorney and prosecutor AJ Dudley did not immediately return a request for comment on the case.

Michael Brown was the subject of local and national media coverage after the shooting as he evaded authorities. Witnesses claimed to have seen him alternately at a South Carolina campsite and again in southern Virginia near his home during the period.

Convenience store video footage captured his image in the Roanoke, Virginia, area and federal agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals joined the manhunt. Areas around Roanoke, Virginia, were put into lockdown on occasions.

Federal agents used an armored vehicle to break apart a recreational vehicle that Michael Brown had used but did not discover him. Reports from local media said that he remained hidden in the RV while it was being ripped apart and snuck out after it had been towed and stored at another site. Police denied that account.

Caldwell-Bono said that on the day he was captured two Virginia state police officers were in the house and heard a noise only to find Michael Brown exiting the house attic.

The officer told authorities, who entered his statement into the record because he could not be present for Wednesday’s hearing, that Michael Brown said he wanted to “negotiate his surrender” and that he had a handgun in his waistband.

The officer asked what he wanted, Caldwell-Bono told Marine Corps Times.

Brown replied that he had a book he wanted to keep and if he could not keep it he would rather die.

The officer said he did not care about the book, he wanted him to give him the gun, which Michael Brown did.

The title of the book was not mentioned in court, so Caldwell-Bono declined to share that information with Marine Corps Times.

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