April 1, 2013

Texas DA's killing puts other prosecutors on alert

'I think district attorneys across Texas are still in a state of shock.'

Nicholas Riccardi and Nomaan Merchant / The Associated Press

KAUFMAN, Texas — After one of his assistant prosecutors was gunned down in January, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland carried a gun everywhere, even when walking the dog.

click image to enlarge

Mike McLelland

Cynthia McLelland
click image to enlarge

Cynthia McLelland

He was extra careful when answering the door at his home outside of Forney, about 20 miles east of Dallas. And a neighbor said a sheriff's deputy was stationed outside the home for about a month after the killing.

On Saturday, McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death in their house. Authorities haven't said much about their investigation, including whether they have any leads or a theory about why the couple was killed. But law enforcement throughout Texas is on high alert, and steps are being taken to better protect other DAs and their staffs.

Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said his staff has been cautioned, but he declined to discuss the specific security measures that have been taken. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins declined to comment on the issue, citing safety concerns.

Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson said he accepted the Houston sheriff's offer of 24-hour security for him and his family after learning about the slayings, mostly over concerns for his family's safety. Anderson said he also would take precautions at his office, the largest one in Texas, which has more than 270 prosecutors.

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

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said little at a brief news conference Sunday about the McLelland investigation, and he deflected questions about possible suspects. He said security would be stepped up at the courthouse in Kaufman, but he declined to say what other steps might be taken to protect the other prosecutors in McLelland's office. The DA's Office will remain closed Monday.

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

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 a block from his courthouse office. No arrests have been made in Hasse's slaying Jan. 31.

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 found no evidence so far 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.

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

McLelland, elected DA in 2010, said his office had prosecuted several cases against racist gangs, who have a strong presence around Kaufman County, a mostly rural area dotted with subdivisions, with a population of about 104,000.

"We put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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