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Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.
Killing of Texas prosecutor, wife, raises fear of wider plot against law-enforcement officials
By Matt Pearce
Los Angeles Times
The last time a prosecutor was gunned down in Kaufman County, Texas, in January, District Attorney Mike McLelland vowed to carry on.
“We’ll still make the walk, and we’ll still show up,” McLelland said of the courthouse parking lot where one of his assistant district attorneys, Mark Hasse, was shot to death by an unknown 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, on Saturday evening, McLelland, 63, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, were found shot dead in their home near Forney, east of Dallas. And once again, Kaufman County Sheriff David Burns had no answers as the attack raised fears of a plot to kill law- enforcement officials in Texas.
The authorities said it was too early to say if the deaths of McLelland and his wife were connected to Hasse’s shooting.
But the timing of the shootings — and the killings of two prosecutors in a county of 106,000 people in the span of eight weeks — appeared to many officials to be more than coincidence.
Burns wouldn’t say if there were signs of forced entry. And he wouldn’t say if there were any indications a white- supremacist group was involved, as McLelland had speculated in Hasse’s death.
Burns also said McLelland had not voiced any concerns about his safety, although the prosecutor told a slightly different story in an Associated Press interview two weeks ago: McLelland had started carrying a gun after his colleague’s death and had started answering the door more carefully.
“I’m ahead of everybody else because, basically, I’m a soldier,” said McLelland, a 23-year Army veteran.
The attack bore a slight similarity to the doorstep slaying of Colorado prisons director Tom Clements at his Colorado Springs home March 19.
Officials suspect Clements was killed by recently paroled inmate Evan Spencer Ebel, 28, who was reportedly a member of a Colorado-based white-supremacist prison gang known as the 211 Crew. Officials have not confirmed the 211 had anything to do with Clements’ slaying, however, and Ebel died after a highway shootout with police in Wise County, Texas, on March 21.
McLelland’s death brought federal and local police agencies to assist the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department. Burns declined to say what security measures were being taken for other prosecutors and public officials, but said security at the courthouse would be visibly increased Monday.
In Hasse’s shooting, the authorities said one or two gunmen had gotten out of a gray or silver sedan, opened fire and fled.
Witnesses told investigators the suspect or suspects appeared to have had their faces covered and were wearing black clothing and tactical-style vests.
No arrests have been made, and investigators from nine agencies have been searching for leads.
One of several angles that investigators have been exploring is whether Hasse’s killing involved members of the Aryan Brotherhood, the white supremacists active in prisons. Prosecutors in McLelland’s office had assisted in investigations of the gang, including a recent case that had targeted the Brotherhood’s leadership.
In that case, federal authorities announced in November that a grand jury in Houston had indicted more than 30 senior Brotherhood leaders and other members of the gang on racketeering charges.
Federal officials said the defendants had agreed to commit killings, robberies, arsons and kidnappings and to traffic narcotics on behalf of the gang. The indictments stemmed from an investigation led by a multiagency task force that included prosecutors from Kaufman County and three other district attorney’s offices.
A month later, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statewide bulletin warning that the Aryan Brotherhood was planning to retaliate against officials who had helped secure the indictments.
Hasse was shot the same day that two Aryan Brotherhood members — Ben Christian Dillon, also known as “Tuff,” of Houston, and James Marshall Meldrum, who nickname is “Dirty,” of Dallas — pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in U.S. District Court in Houston.
A law-enforcement official said there was no evidence so far in the investigation of Hasse’s killing that pointed to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was still continuing, said investigators believed the shootings of Hasse and McLelland were related but appeared to have been carried out by different people, perhaps from the same group or with the same affiliation.
But Byrnes said he had no indication the shootings of McLelland and his wife were the work of the Brotherhood.
McLelland was a 23-year veteran of the Army who served in the first Iraq war, according to a biography on the website of the Kaufman County district attorney’s office.
He also worked as a diagnostic psychologist for Texas government agencies.
He served for 18 years as a criminal defense attorney and special prosecutor for the Department of Family and Protective Services.
He and his wife had five children, including one son who is a Dallas police officer.
Information from The New York Times is included.