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Probe into prosecutors' deaths focuses on former Texas official

April 15, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Authorities search a storage unit at Gibson Self Storage on Saturday as they continue to investigate the slayings of Kaufman County Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, his wife and another top prosecutor in Texas.
Authorities search a storage unit at Gibson Self Storage on Saturday as… (Michael Ainsworth / Associated…)

KAUFMAN, Texas — Authorities investigating the slayings of two north Texas prosecutors appeared to be focusing Monday on a former local official arrested over the weekend on suspicion of threatening those investigating the slayings.

In January, Kaufman County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse, 57, was gunned down as he arrived at the county courthouse about 30 miles east of Dallas. Less than two months later, his boss, Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, 63, and McLelland's wife, Cynthia, 65, were found shot to death at their home near Forney, about 20 miles east of Dallas.

Constables still patrolled outside the courthouse Monday. The killings heightened security in the county of 104,000 and at courthouses statewide, sparking a manhunt in recent weeks that involved multiple local, state and federal agencies.

Experts speculated that the killings had the markings of professional hits, perhaps by Mexican drug cartels or the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang the district attorney’s office had helped prosecute.

Now the focus of the investigation appears to be shifting to Eric Williams, a former Kaufman justice of the peace.

The day after the McLellands’ bodies were found, investigators received an anonymous email threat, according to a Kaufman sheriff’s affidavit released Monday to The Times.

“The threat implied that unless law enforcement responded to the demands of the writer, another attack would occur,” the affidavit says.

It was not clear what the demands were. Lt. Justin Lewis, spokesman for the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department, declined to elaborate.

After searching Williams’ home Friday, investigators traced the threatening email to his computer, according to the affidavit.

Williams, 46, was arrested early Saturday, and afterward authorities also searched a storage unit in nearby Seagonville. Spokesmen for the Sheriff’s Department and FBI in Dallas declined to say what was found during that search.

On Monday, Williams was being held at Kaufman County Jail on $3 million bail. A judge ruled his bail insufficient at arraignment over the weekend, meaning he was essentially being held without bail, jail staff said.

Investigators would not say whether Williams was a suspect in the shootings.

“We’re still doing an investigation,” Sheriff David Byrnes said outside the jail Monday. “We’re not going to be making any statements.”

Williams declined a Times request for an interview Monday, jail staff said. He has repeatedly denied involvement in the shootings through his attorney, saying he has cooperated with investigators — answering questions, turning over his cellphone and submitting to gunshot residue tests after both the Hasse and McLelland shootings.

Williams was convicted last year of stealing county equipment — three computer monitors — and sentenced to probation in a case prosecuted by McLelland and Hasse. Williams, a former lawyer, is appealing his conviction. He also faces a theft charge related to money taken from the law library.

After his conviction, state records show, Williams lost his job and law license.

Neighbors said Williams and his wife kept to themselves in their single-story brick house on a suburban street at the edge of Kaufman. They would see him from time to time walking his dog or going to work.

“I would be shocked to think someone like him could mastermind that,” said neighbor John Reeder, whose son hired Williams to handle his divorce.

Near their neighborhood, the sign outside First Assembly of God Church on Monday still read, “Please pray for God’s protection over our county employees.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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