Nick Morale after his arrest. (Kaufman County Sheriff's…)
KAUFMAN, Texas -- North Texas authorities said a man arrested after making threats on a tip line set up as part of the investigation of the slaying of a local prosecutor and his wife was not a suspect in the killings.
Kaufman County Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, 63, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, were found fatally shot at their home in nearby Forney late Saturday, about two months after local prosecutor Mark Hasse, 57, was gunned down outside the county courthouse about 35 miles east of Dallas.
Nick Morale, 56, of Terrell, was arrested Tuesday and charged with making a terroristic threat a day after he called the Crimestoppers tip line at 1:43 p.m. and threatened that someone else “would be the next victim,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit released by the Kaufman County sheriff’s office on Wednesday. The caller blocked his number, but investigators used phone records to track the call to Morale, according to the affidavit.
Sherriff’s officials redacted the name of the person they say Morale was threatening, and would not reveal the name during a Wednesday briefing, saying only that “a threat against the safety of a county official was received.”
Kaufman County Sheriff’s Lt. Justin Lewis said Morale was not a suspect in either the McLelland or Hasse shootings.
“There is nothing to link Mr. Morale to the investigations of the murders of Mike and Cynthia McLelland or Mark Hasse,” Lewis said as he stood with an FBI spokeswoman in front of the county law enforcement center, where Texas and U.S. flags flew at half-staff. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; the U.S. Marshals and the Texas Rangers are all assisting with the investigation.
“Investigators from many law enforcement agencies are working on leads that have been received on the tip line and through other channels,” Lewis said, adding that the tips were being “vetted thoroughly.”
Added deputies and police have been guarding the county courthouse all week, and Lewis said that “security is being stepped up throughout the community.”
Lewis would not confirm whether investigators had interviewed a “person of interest” in connection with the case or checked out threats against local prosecutors that have been posted on Facebook.
“We have not officially named any person of interest,” Lewis said.
He said no arrests had been made Wednesday in connection with the shootings.
Morale was being held on $1-million bond Wednesday, Lewis said.
Morale’s neighbors about 12 miles north in Terrell said they saw Texas Rangers arrest him and remove boxes from his townhouse Tuesday, including some long, gun-shaped boxes. They described Morale as an eccentric widower who railed against gun control, dropping pamphlets at their homes, loved his bichon frise dog, planted a vegetable garden and shared his harvest.
Neighbors were skeptical that Morale might be involved in the shootings.
“He’s just a weird dude,” said one neighbor who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “There’s no way he was the one who did all that stuff.”
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