Kaufman County officials, courts under tight security after D.A. killing
KAUFMAN, Texas -- As a team of investigators swarmed the north Texas home where Kaufman County Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland was gunned down with his wife over the weekend, courthouse staff returned to work Monday under armed guard.
McLelland, 63, and his wife Cynthia, 65, were found shot to death at their home on Saturday, according to Kaufman County Sheriff’s Lt. Justin Lewis. The shootings came about two months after Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse was fatally shot outside the courthouse, a case that is still under investigation with no arrests, officials have said.
Neighbors behind the McLellands’ brick suburban home outside Forney, Texas, told The Times they were questioned by the FBI and Texas investigators Sunday, but that they told officials they had not heard anything suspicious.
Investigators have not said why McLelland and his wife were targeted, what type of weapon was used or if the case has been linked to Hasse’s killing.
Some Kaufman County court staff were escorted into the modern brick building at the center of town Monday, while other prominent officials such as County Judge Bruce Wood were accompanied by bailiffs inside and out.
The district attorney’s office was closed Monday but staff were still meeting, Wood said during a morning briefing. He said officials had added security but would not say how much, noting “extra precautions, some of which are visible, some of which are not.”
Gov. Rick Perry is expected to appoint McLelland’s replacement. Wood said a handful of local judges were meeting Monday to compile a list of candidates, all likely locals, he said.
He said the judges would also be discussing security for the local criminal justice system. The district attorney’s office employs about 24 lawyers and a total staff of 30, he said.
“It would seem to me this is not just a random act -- there has to be some connection” to Hasse’s killing, Wood said, although he noted that investigators “have found no evidence that links the murders.”
“It’s more than coincidence,” Wood said. “We do have some folks that are out to do harm to public officials.”
Hasse was shot the same day federal officials praised his involvement in prosecuting members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a violent white supremacist group. But investigators never conclusively linked the group to the killing, and Wood refused to comment about whether the group may have been involved in the latest slayings.
He called the latest shootings “an attack on the very fabric of our society.”
Though McLelland had openly vowed to pursue Hasse’s killer, Wood was more circumspect.
“I don’t want to say anything that would put anyone in harm’s way,” he said. “I hope they stop. They’re dealing with real people, real lives.”
County officials created a committee to increase courthouse security even before Hasse’s death, Wood said. Their work accelerated after Hasse’s killing, and they planned to tour the courthouse Tuesday to discuss potentially moving proceedings to a larger facility near the local law enforcement center, he said.
Wood said he last spoke with McLelland last week and described him as “outgoing,” someone who “had great wit, remarkable sense of humor, but he also took his job very seriously.”
It was not clear Monday whether McLelland was targeted because of some of the cases his office prosecuted.
“To say if this was retribution for something he said or did--I just don’t know,” Wood said.
He said he had been in touch with investigators, and that a team of local, state and federal officials were at work trying to track down not just the McLellands’ but also Hasse’s attacker.
“Hopefully whoever is committing these heinous crimes will be caught very quickly.”
The McLellands’ autopsies were pending Monday, and Wood said officials had not heard about funeral or memorial arrangements, although an honor guard is planned, similar to the one held after Hasse’s death.
Wood said it was not immediately clear how many courthouse staff showed up Monday. Some staff said they were scared, others said they felt a duty to come to work.
Jim Donaldson, an investigator with the Kaufman County District Attorney’s office, came to work as usual Monday morning and choked up as he talked about his boss’s killing.
He came in, he said, because “It’s my job to catch the one who did it.”
“We’ll be here for a while,” Donaldson said, adding that he was “definitely concerned” about security at the courthouse with killers on the loose.
A local constable, and Kaufman County and Dallas police cruisers circled the courthouse.
John Birdsong, 36, came to the courthouse to pick up a copy of his birth certificate Monday and was glad to see all the added security, but was not hopeful the investigation would end soon.
“It’s going to be a while before they catch them,” he said.
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