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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Texas district attorney, wife, found dead in county where prosecutor was killed

Kaufman County’s district attorney and his wife were found slain Saturday, raising fears that their deaths may be part of a plot that included the death of one of the county’s assistant district attorneys in January.

Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh and other officials confirmed that Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia Woodward McLelland, had been shot at their home near Forney.

Their deaths followed the Jan. 31 slaying of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.

“It is a shock,” Aulbaugh said late Saturday. “It was a shock with Mark Hasse, and now you can just imagine the double shock. … Until we know what happened, I really can’t confirm that it’s related, but you always have to assume until it’s proven otherwise.”

He said that the Texas Rangers were helping with the investigation at the McLellands’ home in an unincorporated part of the county but that the sheriff’s department will be leading the investigation.

“Because we have to treat it as related [to the Hasse investigation], we’ll be working side by side again,” Aulbaugh said.

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity described the scene at the McLellands’ home as an awful scene where the door appeared to have been kicked in.

“There are shell casings everywhere,” the official said. “This is unprecedented. This is unbelievable. This is huge.”

The discovery of the McLellands’ bodies spurred a massive response from law enforcement, including the FBI. While dozens of marked and unmarked vehicles patrolled the area, officers went door to door to interview neighbors.

Authorities worked quickly Saturday night to confirm that other employees in the Kaufman County district attorney’s office were safe, and they believed that everyone was accounted for. Security was being provided at the homes of others who authorities feared might be targets.

Eric Smenner, a Kaufman defense attorney, said the immediate police protection for the staff of the district attorney’s office was essential.

“They need to shut the office down for a while,” he said. “I think everybody there is a target. They’re not safe in the streets in downtown Kaufman. They’re not safe in their homes.”

He said the recent events reminded him of violence often seen in Mexico.

“It looks like somebody is making a pretty concentrated effort to target the most important people in that office,” he said.

Some of the McLellands’ neighbors said they believed the couple may have been killed late Friday. Some thought they had heard loud noises then but had assumed what they heard was thunder from storms passing through the area.

The discovery of the bodies came as investigators were pursuing a variety of angles in the death of Hasse, 57.

He was shot to death as he walked from his car to the courthouse Jan. 31. Witnesses saw a dark brown or silver sedan, perhaps a Ford Taurus, fleeing the scene, and authorities soon issued a bulletin for two black-clad men who may have been wearing tactical vests.

After Colorado’s prisons chief was killed at his home March 19, the FBI began looking into whether that case could have any connections to Hasse’s death.

The suspect in the Colorado case, Evan Spencer Ebel, was a member of the white supremacist 211 prison gang, and federal authorities had been looking into whether the violent Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang was involved in Hasse’s death.

However, after police killed Ebel, 28, while he was trying to escape authorities March 21 in Decatur, officials said they had not found any connections between him and the Hasse slaying.

Despite the lack of progress in the case, McLelland had expressed hope that though a motive in his assistant’s death remained elusive, more tips would materialize.

He had said in February that though he wasn’t scared for his own safety, he was taking precautions.

“I’ve shifted up my details some, but otherwise I can’t do that much,” said McLelland, who was elected district attorney in 2010. “There’s no holes for me to hide in, and that’s not my style anyway.”

In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety had issued a statewide bulletin warning that authorities had received “credible information” that the Aryan Brotherhood was “actively planning retaliation against law enforcement officials” who helped secure indictments in Houston against dozens of members, including the gang’s leadership.

“High ranking members … are involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty,” the bulletin stated.

In February, weeks after Hasse’s death, McLelland had said Kaufman County employees still felt a sense of wariness and uncertainty.

“The people in the office, they have essentially lost a family member,” he said. “It’s been incredibly hard for folks because it was so sudden, so completely unexpected and so out of left field. I find myself longing for the good old days of three weeks ago.”

McLelland, 63, and his wife, 65, who worked as a psychiatric nurse at Terrell State Hospital, had five children, including a son who is a Dallas police officer.

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