KAUFMAN, Texas — Officials investigating the deaths of two prosecutors in this rural community east of Dallas have turned their attention to a former local official who threatened the two victims after losing his job in a corruption investigation, according to federal law enforcement officials briefed about the case.
The federal officials said the man who emerged as a person of interest this week was convicted and placed on probation for stealing public property in Kaufman County two years ago.
After his arrest, investigators found he had numerous guns, including an assault rifle and survivalist equipment, one of the federal officials said. The officials declined to be identified, citing the ongoing investigation.
Efforts to reach a plea fell apart, and the man threatened retaliation against the two prosecutors, another federal official said. He had also threatened to burn down the home of a local lawyer.
The attorney for the person of interest said he had “strenuously denied making any threats.”
Authorities are investigating the deaths of Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, 63, found fatally shot over the weekend with his wife, Cynthia, 65, at their home near Forney; and Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse, 57, shot on his way to court Jan. 31.
Courthouse staff reported to work Tuesday flanked by sheriff’s deputies. A wreath of white roses and other flowers bearing McLelland’s name was placed out front.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Kaufman County Judge David Lewis said as he climbed out of his car.
During a briefing Tuesday outside the courthouse, County Judge Bruce Wood said investigators were still searching for suspects in the killings.
“We’re working feverishly — national, state and local offices; they’re doing all they can to investigate this crime,” Wood said.
Brandi Fernandez is now acting district attorney for Kaufman County. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to name a permanent replacement soon.
Hasse was shot the same day that federal officials credited him for assisting with the prosecution of members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang.
Fernandez has also handled an Aryan Brotherhood case, but Wood declined to comment Tuesday about whether that led to concerns for her safety.
The person of interest maintains he is innocent and has cooperated with investigators, according to his attorney, David Sergi.
Sergi said investigators approached his client at a restaurant Saturday night, the same night the bodies of the McLellands were found. “He met with investigators in the parking lot of the Denny’s in Kaufman County, and he agreed to give them a gunshot residue test and his cellphone,” Sergi said. The man also had a gunshot residue test after Hasse was shot.
Sergi confirmed that his client had guns and military supplies — deemed survivalist equipment by sources — but that this was to be expected of a former Army reservist who had been a weapons instructor.
Noting that some media had released his client’s name, Sergi said: “We’re obviously upset that his name has been mentioned, because he maintains he has nothing to do with it. We fear for his safety now.”
Despite those fears, Sergi said his client had not left the area Tuesday. “He’s been at his home; he hasn’t gone anywhere,” Sergi said.
Serrano reported from Washington, Hennessy-Fiske from Kaufman. Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed from Los Angeles.