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Officials: Prosecutors' deaths may have stemmed from ex-employee's grudge

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
updated 11:37 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Kim Lene Williams, 46, is being held on murder charges in the killings. Her husband, Eric Williams, hasn't been charged yet.
Kim Lene Williams, 46, is being held on murder charges in the killings. Her husband, Eric Williams, hasn't been charged yet.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Texas prosecutor was killed in January
  • The local district attorney and his wife were killed in March
  • The wife of a former justice of the peace was arrested in the case

(CNN) -- If this all shakes out the way authorities say it will, the deaths of two local prosecutors, the panic that gripped a city and a massive manhunt that ensued may all stem from the theft of some computer monitors and a disgraced lawman who held a grudge the size of Texas.

The brazen shootings of a Kaufman County prosecutor in January and those of the local district attorney and his wife last month stunned the nation. An army of law enforcement officials converged on the area near Dallas.

Gov. Rick Perry vowed to find the killer and doubled a $100,000 reward that had already been offered.

But despite the feverish search, investigators had one big problem - a plethora of suspects. By the nature of their jobs, prosecutors make many enemies.

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Detectives eyed an ever-growing lineup of potential suspects -- a local white supremacist gang, drug cartels. Leads that had them looking far away from the town where victims were gunned down.

But in the end, prosecutors say, the culprit was closer than they thought. Right under their nose.

In broad daylight

Those who worked with Mark Hasse thought the prosecutor was lucky to still be alive.

The hard-charging attorney, known for being a supreme story teller, had his own story to tell. He had once crashed a World War II-era plane -- an insane plummet that crushed his skull and left him without the sense of smell.

He survived, only to meet his demise January 31 on the county courthouse parking lot.

Someone confronted Hasse, investigators say, then shot him dead.

The killing, which occurred in broad daylight in the middle of town, sent law enforcement scrambling.

A local attorney said Hasse feared for his life and had recently began carrying a gun with him to work, daily. Detectives scoured Hasse's cases for possible culprits. Many emerged.

But still as the days moved on, no was arrested. No was named as the prime suspect.

District Attorney Mike McLelland vowed to find the "scum" who killed his "stellar" assistant.

Shot a dozen times

McLelland, a man known for not mincing words when it came to criminals, was angry. He aimed a steely stare at the reporter's cameras as if eying Hasse's killer.

"I hope that the people that did this are watching, because we're very confident that we're going to find you," McLelland said at a January news conference. "We're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in, we're going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

Two months later, the 63-year-old prosecutor was dead. His body was found in his Kaufman County home along with his wife's on March 30.

They both were riddled with bullets, investigators said, shot at least a dozen times.

Texas DA, wife killed

At his funeral, McLelland's daughter told the many assembled to continue to fight like her father had.

"He was quite eloquent in saying that he didn't give a sh-t if people were scaring him, and he wasn't frightened, and he was going to stand his ground," Christina Foreman said.

But fear seemed to be creeping in.

An interim district attorney was picked to lead the shaken area until the governor could select a new top prosecutor.

"I wonder if the governor is going to find anyone brave enough to take the job of district attorney," Kaufman city Mayor William Fortner said at the time.

Disgraced justice

Before his death, McLelland had wondered if a white supremacist group was behind the killing of Hasse.

"We put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year," McLelland told The Associated Press.

McLelland said Hasse wasn't involved in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas investigation, but his office was one of numerous Texas and federal agencies involved in an investigation that led to the indictment last year of 34 alleged members of the group -- including four of its senior leaders -- on racketeering charges.

And while detectives were investigating that angle and many others, others focused closer to home. The recent trial of a local elected official had made some feel uneasy.

The 2012 trial of Eric Williams, Kaufman County's then-justice of the peace was big news in the area.

"It was a mega-trial for a little community, the sense of it - it was a big trial," said Denise Bell of the Forney Post newspaper.

Williams lost his job as a justice of the peace after surveillance video showed him taking county computer equipment.

He was found guilty of felony theft, got two years probation and lost his law license.

Neighbors say his life was turned upside down.

In a statement filed with the court after his conviction, Williams denied the thefts and called the loss of his law license "a life long sentence."

"I will have to seek another career, with a felony I will not be able to earn what I am used to," he said, adding that it would be his wife, who he said was on disability, and his aging parents who would suffer the most.

After the killings, investigators interviewed Williams, meeting him at a Denny's. They asked him to take a gun residue test which he did. It came back negative.

Williams, through his lawyer, denied any involvement, said he was cooperating. He said he understood why he was being questioned.

Williams, his attorney said, held no grudges.

Interim DA known as tough court opponent

A confession

Last week, officials arrested Williams and accused him of sending threatening emails to investigators after McLelland's death.

At the time, investigators did not say if Williams was being investigated for the string of killings.

That arrest left many, who had been searching for answers for so long, with more questions.

Then Williams' wife was arrested Wednesday and an arrest warrant made public that seemed to provide the answers.

According to the warrant, the wife described her role and said that her husband, Eric Williams, fatally shot Hasse and the McLellands.

"During the interview the defendant gave details of both offenses which had not been made public," the arrest affidavit said.

Focus on the Williams had intensified over the weekend after authorities carried out searches of their home as well as a storage unit.

An FBI spokesman said investigators recovered a cache of guns and a police-style vehicle.

Witnesses reported seeing one like it in the McLellands' neighborhood around the time of their killings.

Murders of prosecutors in U.S. called 'beyond rare'

What next

Williams has yet to be charged for the killings. His wife, Kim Lene Williams, 46, is being held on murder charges.

For residents of the close-knit community, the arrest brought a glimmer of hope

"Quite honestly this has been troubling. It is a tragic series of events that none of us would have ever expected to occur in our county," Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said. "There is a sense of relief that perhaps this case is moving forward."

For Bell, of the local Forney Post newspaper, the arrests may remind her of a warning McLelland gave her.

Before his death, the district attorney told her that he suspected that Williams was dangerous.

The scorned lawman's grudge could extend beyond just getting even with the legal system McLelland had warned.

McLelland had advised the reporter to be careful around Williams.

"Because I sat in the front row and covered this trial for 10 days," she said.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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