KAUFMAN, Texas (AP) — Authorities investigating the deaths of a North Texas district attorney and his wife appear to have narrowed their focus on a former justice of the peace prosecuted last year by the official for theft.
Eric Lyle Williams, 46, was arrested Saturday on a charge of making a terroristic threat and is being held in the Kaufman County Jail on $3 million bond. His arrest came after federal and local agents investigating the March 28 deaths of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, searched Williams’ home on Friday.
Authorities have said little about their investigation into the McClellands’ deaths and have not named any suspects. Previous possible culprits mentioned included a white supremacist prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, which had been targeted by a task force that included McLelland’s office.
Two others have been arrested for making terroristic threats during the investigation into the slayings, but authorities said they had no connection to the deaths.
Kaufman County sheriff’s office spokesman Justin Lewis declined to discuss the weekend developments. “Mr. Williams has not been charged with murder,” Lewis said Sunday in an email.
A spokeswoman for the FBI would not comment Sunday on the ongoing investigation, and Williams’ attorney did not return a phone message.
The McClellands were killed about two months after one of McLelland’s prosecutors, Mark Hasse, was slain outside the local courthouse. McLelland and Hasse both participated in last year’s prosecution of Williams on charges that he stole three computer monitors from an office building.
Williams has said he submitted to gunshot residue tests and turned over his cellphone after both McLelland and Hasse were found dead. Williams’ attorney, David Sergi, said in a statement Friday that Williams “has cooperated with law enforcement and vigorously denies any and all allegations.”
Both prosecutors gave closing arguments before a jury convicted Williams in April. They questioned his character and suggested he was prone to threatening others. An ex-girlfriend testified before he was sentenced that he had shown her a gun and frightened her enough to call the police.
Williams received two years’ probation, but lost his position as justice of the peace — an elected judicial officer who typically handles smaller civil and administrative matters — as well as his law license.
Williams has appealed the verdict, and on March 29 — one day before the McLellands were found dead — a state appeals court in Dallas had agreed to hear oral arguments in the case.
Though Williams was caught on surveillance video with the monitors, he argued he needed them to work on a county project and his attorneys portrayed him as an occasionally bumbling figure with good intentions.
“Look at the man on the video,” Sergi said, according to a trial transcript. “Look at his eyes. He’s not hiding anything. He doesn’t know why he’s here. He’s befuddled.”
But Hasse and McLelland both spoke harshly of his character and dismissed his explanation.
“He’s an elected public servant who is just a flat-out thief and burglar and needs to be removed from office and convicted of being a thief and a burglar, (because) that’s exactly what he is, with quality evidence of him doing it on video,” Hasse said.
McLelland described the case as an example of “the fox watching the henhouse.”
Hasse alluded to several threatening statements Williams had allegedly made, including one to Janice Gray, an ex-girlfriend. Gray testified before Williams was sentenced about her first time seeing him at a conference after they broke up. After she turned down his invitation to go out to eat, he told her “he had something he wanted to give my son,” Gray testified.
“And then he showed me a gun he had and said he had gotten this new gun,” Gray said.
The next night, Gray said she was at a sports bar with some friends when he showed up, uninvited.
“He told me he had a gun in his bag, and if I turned around and walked away, he wouldn’t — he would use it ’cause he didn’t have anything to lose,” Gray said. She called police, who guarded her hotel room that night.
The deaths of McClelland and Hasse were two of several recent high-profile law enforcement killings, including the shooting earlier this month of a southern West Virginia sheriff and the March slaying of Colorado’s prison chief.