Michael Desalvo once told a roommate he left big-city life in Minneapolis behind and came to Wisconsin so he could put his life in order.
Instead, Desalvo, 25, is in the worst trouble of his short adult life, standing on the cusp of a possible long prison sentence after being charged in the death of a woman he met at a Fitchburg tavern.
Desalvo is scheduled to enter a guilty or no contest plea this morning in Dane County Circuit Court to a charge related to the death of Angela Drake, 25, of Oregon, one year after the two met at the Dry Bean Saloon.
A criminal complaint that charges Desalvo with first-degree intentional homicide says Desalvo left Drake to die in a ditch in the town of Oregon early Dec. 9, 2005, when temperatures dipped into the mid-teens.
Drake's mother, Anne Olson, said Thursday she has been told only that an agreement has been reached and did not know what would happen today.
Olson and her husband, Tim Olson, Drake's stepfather, said Thursday that for the past year, they have concentrated on memories of Angela and on sharing those memories with friends and family as a way of enduring what has been a terrible loss.
The Olsons said they haven't given Desalvo much thought.
"Growing up, you don't hate people," Anne Olson said.
"We don't (think about Desalvo) because it's not our priority," Tim Olson said. "Our priority is Angie, how she's touched people. We're putting (Desalvo) off to the side."
Troubles in Minnesota
Many of those who knew Desalvo after he came to Wisconsin about two years ago declined to talk openly about him.
Former employers, for example, said they didn't want to associate their businesses with Desalvo. Parents of women Desalvo dated said their daughters are trying to put behind them what they said were difficult periods in their lives.
Desalvo's attorney, assistant public defender Jon Helland, said Desalvo came to Madison in 2004 to attend Madison Area Technical College but never enrolled.
He worked as a small-engine mechanic for a company in Madison that sells and services sprayers for painters and drywallers. For about two weeks before his arrest in Drake's death, he cleaned septic systems.
Shane Skare of Fitchburg, who was renting a room to Desalvo at the time of his arrest, said he met Desalvo in late summer 2005 while taking part in a go-cart league in Middleton.
Skare said Desalvo seemed "a little troubled," but not a bad guy. He and another roommate looked up Desalvo on the state court system's website and found nothing to indicate he might cause problems.
Desalvo told Skare that he came to Wisconsin to get away from troubled times in his Minneapolis neighborhood, where Desalvo told Skare he once saw a neighbor threaten another with a shotgun.
"He wanted to get away from that," Skare said, "so he came down here for a fresh start."
According to court records from Hennepin County in Minnesota, Desalvo was wanted by police there because he had stopped reporting to his probation agent in summer 2004 and for allegedly driving a stolen car.
"I didn't know he was wanted for anything," Skare said. "He told me everything was taken care of."
Run-ins in Wisconsin
Helland said Desalvo grew up with his mother, Mary Beth, and stepfather, Serge, in Hopkins, an affluent suburb of Minneapolis. Despite their means, he said, Desalvo's parents were financially conservative, which led to teasing from peers who flaunted new cars and other material goods.
Desalvo graduated from Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, where he was an avid chess player and a multi-instrumental musician, Helland said.
But he fell in with a bad crowd, Helland said, which led to various convictions in 2002 and 2003 for such crimes as cashing a stolen check, breaking into and stealing cash from a shop where he worked and stealing a car from a dealership.
The probation and theft warrant never caused problems for Desalvo, despite two police contacts in Wisconsin that resulted in criminal charges.
In February 2005, police who stopped Desalvo for speeding in Eau Claire County found a small amount of marijuana. A misdemeanor drug possession charge was dismissed when Desalvo pleaded no contest to lying to police about his identity and paid a fine.
A traffic stop in McFarland in September 2005 brought another drug charge, this time for possessing OxyContin that didn't belong to him. He pleaded no contest to the felony charge but has yet to be sentenced.
Neither case resulted in Desalvo being sent back to Minnesota. The warrant seeking Desalvo's arrest for the car theft and probation violation, which was signed by a judge in August 2004, specified that it was not to be executed outside Minnesota.
Wisconsin State Patrol Col. Benjamin Mendez said that for lesser crimes, states will often not seek extradition of defendants from outside their borders because of the expense involved in traveling to pick them up.