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The aftermath of the killing was a confusing blur of older people saying a lot of things, and using a lot of words Caleb didn't understand. To investigators, the scene was much clearer. On the night of the murder, Jim had parked three blocks from the house, slashed Artie's car tires, and entered his home with a handgun and a rifle. Jim, an expert shot, fired at an unarmed Artie eight times, hitting him twice in the chest. After Caleb's wounded father retreated to the bathroom, Jim waited 28 seconds before he fired the kill shot into Artie's eye. At the trial, a ballistics expert theorized that the shooter had dropped to one knee to steady his aim before firing the final shot at his victim. Jim was arrested a few blocks away as he hobbled along the street, the rifle jammed down one pant leg.
Prosecutors believed Jim planned the murder, while Jim's lawyers argued their client was lost in a haze of temporary amnesia when he shot his brother, and then argued for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. The trial was sensational: brother murdering brother. A family divided. It was modern-day Shakespeare.
For Caleb, the tragedy was just beginning. The police wanted to know everything he knew about his father and his parents and his uncle, so he sat in a chair and answered their questions over and over again. The lawyers wanted to know, too. And then the therapists wanted to know everything, and they kept asking him, again and again, at three scheduled appointments a week, how is young Caleb feeling?
All the people asking the questions were strangers, and none of them could do a damn thing about the fact that his father was dead. Talking about it helps, they kept telling him. So the best he could do at the time, because talking about it helps, was to say: Basically, it sucks.
At home, he and his older siblings argued deeply and often with their mother, Karen. One night an argument between Caleb and his mom over dishes turned physical -- the mother made a citizen's arrest of her youngest son and had him hauled away. By high school, Caleb had already left home, moving in with friends and his dad's first wife, Meredith, in Cape Cod. The boy was determined to raise himself. Feelings between mother and son are still tense, and an archetypal family portrait has dried in Caleb's head: "My mom is like the Antichrist," he says, "and my dad is like God."
The inevitable books and movie scripts that soon began circulating seemed to tell a much different story than the one Caleb witnessed growing up. To him, they suggested that the fratricide was acceptable, as if Uncle Jim was pushed to the brink by the mess Artie's life had become. The stories put his dad's life on trial, not Jim's.
In Rated X, Charlie Sheen, an actor known for his drug- and alcohol-infused past, played Artie, while Emilio Estevez, Sheen's squeaky-clean brother, was cast as Jim. Caleb and his family watched as the movie took their real lives -- rich and nuanced, as real life tends to be -- and boiled them down to a simple formula: Artie was drunk and bad, Jim was sober and good. Charlie equals dad, Emilio equals Uncle Jim. "All of these stories are justifications for why my uncle murdered my father," says Caleb. "They're told from my uncle's side. Any time they had a chance to make my uncle look good, they did. Any time they had a chance to make my dad look bad, they did."
Reality has been even tougher on Caleb, but he's managed to let some of his bitterness go. On the other hand, much of it remains. Not believing the court's conclusion, he later took it upon himself to do his own research: From interviews with his dad's friends and family members, he concluded that his uncle showed up ready to kill his dad. He's just not sure how premeditated it was: A few hours? Days? A lifetime? But all that stuff is in the past now, he says. He's not looking to avenge his father's murder. This is real life, after all, not Shakespeare, even though everyone knows who killed the king. "My uncle got away with murder," he says, flatly.
Caleb sees his uncle from time to time, mostly in court, where the uncle has the advantage. "I wish it was me who was dead," Jim Mitchell said during his trial. But he wasn't dead, and Jim -- who did not respond to phone messages seeking his perspective for this story -- quickly assumed control of the Mitchell Brothers empire. What it was worth, Artie's kids may never really know. What they do know, Caleb says, is that what was once half Artie's was wrested from his family through years of legal maneuvers by his uncle's attorneys. At one point, Caleb says, he was offered a $16,000 settlement, which he refused, and which still leaves him bitter. In the end, he and his siblings each got about $200,000, a fraction of what Caleb believes is a fair shake. "Right now I should be a rich pornographer," the young man quips. "Instead, I'm a fighter."
A trust-fund fighter, no less. At the Palace Casino in Lemoore, California, he'll earn $250 for his fight, $500 if he wins. It's a lousy purse, but Caleb doesn't do it for the money. He does it for the sport.
That, at least, is his easy answer, a cherry to place atop his sordid family tale. For Caleb is the first to admit that he's driven by anger. They all fucked with him: the cops, the lawyers, the shrinks, the brother, the mom, the uncle, Hollywood -- all of them. It's just how he was raised. And he spent all those years in therapy drawing this road map of his life, learning how it has ended up here, inside a cage.
He doesn't get nervous when he arrives to fight; it's a mental space familiar to him. That, he believes, is why the meatheads who jump into the cage with a head full of rocks and an ass full of testosterone get themselves beaten silly: It's because they don't know where they're at, or how they got there, or where it's all coming from, or how to harness their severe emotions. They just punch and kick and scream -- and go nowhere.
Caleb Mitchell stays cool. He knows why he fights. He has the residue of his dad's murder clinging to him every day, and every few months he gets to purge it. He considers fighting a healthy outlet for his soul, an experience through which all of his negative energy is concentrated and then unloaded at the sound of the referee's voice calling an end to the match. After every fight he suffers through fits of dry heaves, a sort of exorcism, as he sees it, of his frayed nerves, his excess adrenaline, and his physical and emotional pain. "I didn't learn how to fight so I could hurt people," he says. "I learned how to fight so I wouldn't get hurt anymore."
Seven Days - February 24, 5:52 PM
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