Slaying of 2nd Texas prosecutor raises parallels to other cases

When a Texas prosecutor was gunned down in the courthouse parking lot last January, Kaufman County Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland stood in front of reporters and vowed to carry on.

“We’ll still make the walk, and we’ll still show up,” McLelland said after one of his assistant district attorneys, Mark Hasse, was shot to death by an unidentified assailant Jan. 31. “And we’ll still send bad guys out of Kaufman County every chance we get. We’re not stopping. We’re not slowing down.”

Two months later, McLelland himself was shot to death with his wife, Cynthia. They were found Saturday night at their home near Forney, about 20 miles east of Dallas.

In an eerie repeat of recent history, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes stood in front of reporters as officials and locals alike worried about what could happen next. But this time, he stood alone.

The attack raised fears of a plot on the lives of Texas authorities. The FBI, the Texas Rangers and at least half a dozen other agencies were participating in the investigation.

Late Sunday, Kaufman County sheriff’s cruisers blocked the street where the McLellands lived, Blarney Stone Way. Investigators worked late into the night, their lights visible from a distance on the quiet suburban street of modest brick and stone homes with spacious lawns where crickets chirped and dogs occasionally barked.

Sadness and anxiety mixed with anger in the community.

“People live here for a reason, because the things that happen in Dallas don’t happen here,” said Tassie Gamble, president of Kaufman County Crime Stoppers. “It’s pretty devastating.”

Local defense attorney Ron Herrington, friends with both of the slain prosecutors, said his colleagues were “horrified” by the attack. He became agitated as he thought about returning Monday to the courthouse, where security is to be increased.

“Everyone’s going to be scared, and quite frankly I’m [angry],” Herrington said. “These are nice people. Mark got shot down in a parking lot like a dog, and they went into Mike’s house and shot him and his wife. How low can you get?”

The McLellands had five children, including a son on the Dallas police force.

Cynthia McLelland, 65, had attended local Crime Stoppers meetings and talked about her hopes that Hasse’s killer would be brought to justice. Mike McLelland, 63, was still debating what would be the right memorial for his slain colleague.

Forney’s mayor called the slayings a “targeted attack.” Rumors circulated in local media about the type of weapon that was used, but authorities declined Sunday to publicly discuss the particulars of the killings, or to discuss much at all.

Byrnes, the sheriff, wouldn’t say whether the two prosecutors’ deaths were related. He wouldn’t say whether the home showed any sign of forced entry. He wouldn’t talk about whether a white supremacist group could be involved, as McLelland had speculated after Hasse’s slaying.

Hasse was killed the day the U.S. Department of Justice announced that two members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang had pleaded guilty in federal court to racketeering. The department credited Kaufman County prosecutors for assisting with the case.

The Texas Department of Public Safety reportedly warned of the possibility of retaliation in a December bulletin to law enforcement officials, saying Brotherhood leaders had called for “mass casualties or death” to those involved with the cases. But on Sunday, a department spokesman declined to confirm or deny the bulletin’s existence, saying such alerts were confidential.

Herrington, the defense attorney, said the Aryan Brotherhood had a sizable presence in Kaufman County, and Hasse had begun wearing a gun within the last year out of concern for his safety. “I could see it under his jacket,” Herrington said, adding that Hasse also had started carrying a prosecutor’s badge as a deterrent.

McLelland told the Associated Press two weeks ago that he began carrying a gun after Hasse’s death and was answering his door more carefully.

“I’m ahead of everybody else because, basically, I’m a soldier,” McLelland, a 23-year Army veteran, told the AP.

The attack on the McLellands bore a slight similarity to the doorstep slaying of Colorado prisons director Tom Clements at his suburban Colorado Springs home March 19.

Officials suspect that Clements was killed by a recently paroled inmate, Evan Spencer Ebel, 28, who reportedly was a member of a Colorado-based white-supremacist prison gang known as the 211 Crew. Officials have not confirmed that the 211 had anything to do with Clements’ slaying, however. Ebel died after a highway shootout with police in Wise County, Texas, on March 21.

El Paso County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office spokesman Joe Roybal said Sunday that Colorado investigators handling the Clements case had called Texas officials about the prosecutors’ slayings, but that they had no indications of a connection with Clements’ slaying.

“But we definitely think it’s worth looking into,” Roybal said.

“We’re not publicly discussing anything about the 211 Crew because we have not identified any involvement outside of Ebel at this time,” Roybal said, adding that officials were nonetheless “focusing on all possible associates of Mr. Ebel.”

In Kaufman County on Sunday, Byrnes declined to say what security measures were being taken for other prosecutors and public officials but said courthouse security would be visibly tighter Monday.

The courthouse would be open, officials said, but the county prosecutor’s office would be closed.

Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Assn., said attorneys from around the state had already volunteered to fill in at the Kaufman County prosecutor’s office, which was now down two prosecutors.

“Every prosecutor’s used to [threats],” Kepple said. “Sometime in their career, they’re going to get a death threat, but most of the time it’s not serious.”

He said it was too soon in the investigation to make a judgment as to whether there was ongoing danger. “They’re all going to be in court tomorrow doing what they do,” he said about state prosecutors. “I don’t know that they’ll be the least bit dissuaded from what happened in Kaufman County this weekend.”

Staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Texas contributed to this report.