Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 1, 2013

DA's killing puts other prosecutors on alert

Fernandez to be interim DA for 21 days

Associated Press
The Athens Review

Athens — KAUFMAN, Texas — Deputies escorted some Kaufman County employees into the courthouse Monday, two days after the district attorney and his wife were found shot to death in their home in an attack that stirred fears that other public employees could be targeted by assassins.

Law enforcement officers were seen patrolling one side of the courthouse, one holding a semi-automatic weapon, while others walked around inside.

Authorities have said little about the investigation into the deaths of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, whose bodies were found Saturday.

The couple's slayings came less than two weeks after Colorado's prison chief was shot to death at his front door, apparently by an ex-convict, and a couple of months after Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was killed in a parking lot near his courthouse office. No arrests have been made in Hasse's Jan. 31 killing.

"I don't want to walk around in fear every day, but on the other hand, two months ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation," County Judge Bruce Wood, the county's top administrator, said Monday at a news conference.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Texas were on high alert, and steps were being taken to better protect other DAs and their staff.

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt said “Henderson County added security to the courthouse and Judicial building after the first murder in January.

According to Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee, Law Enforcement in Henderson County is providing security to McKee and his family.

In Harris County, which includes Houston, District Attorney Mike Anderson said he accepted the sheriff's offer of 24-hour security for him and his family. Anderson said he also would take precautions at his office, the largest of its kind in Texas, with more than 270 prosecutors.

"I think district attorneys across Texas are still in a state of shock," Anderson said Sunday.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) released a statement regarding the shooting in Kaufman County, saying “The shooting of Mike and Cynthia McLelland is nothing short of a tragedy that has shocked our nation. I have known Mike as someone who embodies the role of a dedicated public servant at all times. This incident, and the shooting of Mark Hasse, are stark reminders that our law enforcement personnel put their safety and lives on the line every day. Melissa and I join citizens across Texas and our nation in offering our prayers of support and comfort to the McLelland family, friends and coworkers. I am confident that law enforcement at all levels will work to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for these brazen murders.”

Gov. Rick Perry is suggesting that everyone, especially public officials, should be extra-cautious after the weekend killings. Perry added he believes there is “a clear concern to individuals who are in public life, particularly those who deal with some very mean and vicious individuals.”

McLelland, 63, was the 13th prosecutor killed in the U.S. since the National Association of District Attorneys began keeping count in the 1960s.

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes would not give details Sunday of how the killings unfolded, and said there was nothing to indicate for certain whether the DA's slaying was connected to Hasse's.

El Paso County, Colo.  sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Joe Roybal said investigators had so far found no evidence connecting the Texas killings to the Colorado case, but added: "We're examining all possibilities."

Colorado's corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman.

In an Associated Press interview shortly after the Colorado slaying, McLelland himself raised the possibility that Hasse was gunned down by a white-supremacist gang.

McLelland, elected in 2010, said his office had prosecuted several cases against such gangs, particularly one known as the Aryan Brotherhood. The groups have a strong presence around Kaufman County, a mostly rural area dotted with subdivisions, with a population of about 104,000.

After Hasse's slaying, McLelland said, he carried a gun everywhere around town, even when walking his dog. He figured assassins were more likely to try to attack him outside. He said he had warned all his employees to be constantly on the alert.

"The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it," he said of dealing with the danger, "because they're going to need it more in the future."

The number of attacks on prosecutors, judges and senior law enforcement officers in the U.S. has spiked in the past three years, according to Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County, Calif., district attorney's office who tracks such cases.

For about a month after Hasse's slaying, sheriff's deputies were parked in the district attorney's driveway, said Sam Rosander, a McLelland neighbor.

The FBI and the Texas Rangers joined the investigation into the McLellands' deaths.

Brandi Fernandez will lead the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office for the next 21 days. She had been the first assistant DA under District Attorney Mike McLelland.

State law requires that the DA's first assistant will conduct the affairs of the office until Gov. Rick Perry appoints a permanent successor.

McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, had two daughters and three sons. One son is a police officer in Dallas.