UTAH STATE PRISON — When he was first arrested 20 years ago, Thomas Albert Rebillot claimed the shooting death of 23-year-old Mikelle Leigh Caldwell was an accident.
But during his first parole hearing at the Utah State Prison, Rebillot — who at one time faced a potential death sentence if convicted — admitted the shooting was no accident.
“I remember just walking in the house and seeing her laying on the chair, and when she was laying there I walked in and shot her,” Rebillot said in a recording of his parole hearing on Dec. 10.
On May 21, 1999, Rebillot shot and killed Caldwell, who was known then as Mikelle Cannon, inside her home west of Ogden while her two young children were present. He maintained throughout his court case that the shooting was an accident and was originally charged with negligent homicide, a misdemeanor.
But that charge was later dropped. And following an 18-month investigation by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors refiled a charge of capital murder, meaning Rebillot was eligible for the death penalty if convicted. According to the charges, Rebillot killed Caldwell because he believed she was a police informant.
In 2001, Rebillot accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to murder, and was sentenced to up to life in prison in exchange for being spared the death penalty.
On Dec. 10, Rebillot, now 47, from Ogden, went before a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for the first time. Board member Clark Harms conducted the hearing.
In recounting what was happening with his life in 1999, Rebillot, who already had a serious criminal history and had served time in prison prior to the shooting, said he was “addicted to methamphetamines and just running wild.”
“I don’t really have an excuse for what I did. I was strung out on drugs and just didn’t really care about much,” he said. “At that point and time in my life I didn’t care. I was a different person than I am now.”
Rebillot said he started using meth the day he got out of prison for his previous offense.
Rebillot had known Caldwell for about a month before killing her. He said he had confronted her previously about allegedly being a narc and admitted he was angry about it.
On the day of the murder, Rebillot said he went to her house to fix a car, but brought a gun with him.
“Did you go over there to kill her?” Harms asked him directly.
“That was not the intent at first,” Rebillot replied.
“When did that turn into the intent?”
“When I walked into the house, and originally I walked in just to bring the gun in. And I remember just getting angry seeing her and talking to her, and I shot her.”
When Harms asked Rebillot if he ever thinks about his victim, he said yes — daily.
“I wish I could take back what I did. There are no words that can ever describe how I feel or change anything that I did. But I am sorry. I know that doesn’t mean anything to her family. But I do regret my actions,” he said.
Since being in prison, Rebillot has earned both his high school diploma and a college associate’s degree.
Despite the successes he may have achieved over the past 20 years, members of Caldwell’s family say they still live in fear that Rebillot will seek revenge on them if he gets out, and that Rebillot will hang out again with his former associates, whom the family claims assisted in the killing.
“I have no doubt in my mind that if Thomas Rebillot were to be released, other families would be destroyed by murder. Other little girls would lose their mothers and fathers,” Megan Parker, Mikelle’s daughter, wrote in a letter to the board.
I wish I could take back what I did. There are no words that can ever describe how I feel or change anything that I did. But I am sorry. I know that doesn’t mean anything to her family. But I do regret my actions.
–Thomas Albert Rebillot
Parker was 20 months old and her brother, Gavin Caldwell, was 3 at the time their mother was killed. Both were home at the time of the shooting.
The siblings told the board that they both still struggle to this day with anxiety and depression because of the shooting. They recounted the hard lives they had after their mother’s death because they were placed with their birth father, who they claim was abusive. The children’s grandparents later gained custody of them.
Dallas Parker, Megan’s husband, read his wife's letter to the parole board. In it, Megan Parker, now 22, said she grew up living in constant fear, was bullied at school and had childhood trauma.
“To take away a little girl’s mother is evil. And that’s exactly what Thomas Rebillot knowingly and remorselessly did,” she wrote. “This is not a man our community needs. This is not a man our community wants. This is a man that will continue to destroy lives and kill the innocent. He is where he deserves to be.”
Gavin Caldwell recounted how he was walking down the steps to get a drink of water in 1999 when he witnessed his mother being shot. He ran back upstairs and hid under the bed.
Witnessing his mother’s murder had a profound impact on him, he told the board. All of the “happiness and light” was drained from him, and he was suicidal during his teen years, he said.
“It affects every aspect of my life,” he said.
Caldwell also believes Rebillot will kill again if he is released, and told Harms that he “does not deserve freedom.”
“We have suffered enough at the hands of this man and do not need anymore suffering,” he said.
Both of Mikelle Caldwell’s parents — the grandparents of her two children — also addressed the board.
“I don’t know how anyone can share the true impact of losing a daughter,” Darlene Caldwell told Harms. “I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that a man planned and carried out shooting my beautiful daughter.
“The impact of that act changed the fabric of our lives forever and we are still reeling from its consequences,” she continued. “I believe with all my heart if he were to be released he would kill again.”
Caldwell said she wants Rebillot to remain in prison until he is “much older” so he is no longer capable of hurting anyone when he is released.
The full five-member board will now vote on whether to grant parole.