On Jan. 31, gunmen shot and killed Mark Hasse, an assistant district attorney in Texas' largely rural Kaufman County, in broad daylight as he was walking from his car to the Dallas-area courthouse. District Attorney Mike McLelland quickly vowed to pull the "scum" who shot his deputy "out of whatever hole you're in" and prosecute them "to the fullest extent of the law." Hasse's murder was still unsolved on Saturday, when police found the bodies of McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in their home, also shot dead.
Hasse had begun carrying a gun to work and varying his routine because he feared for his life, friends say. And after Hasse's death, McLelland started carrying a gun, too. "The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it, because they're going to need it more in the future," he told The Associated Press less that two weeks ago. "I'm ahead of everybody else because, basically, I'm a soldier," he added, referring to his 23 years in the Army. Police officials say Cynthia McLelland was found near the front door of their house, and her husband was found near the back, still in his pajamas.
Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said Sunday that there was no evidence that the Hasse and McLelland murders were related, but "the killings of two prosecutors in a county of 106,000 people in less than eight weeks appeared to many officials to be more than a coincidence," notes The New York Times. Law enforcement sources, speaking off the record, say the the sheriff's office, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and other agencies working on the cases assume there's a strong connection. Local officials are making that case openly, and security is being beefed up for employees of the D.A.'s office.
The lead suspect in the killings is a white supremacist prison gang called the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. McLelland had said he believed the gang could have been responsible for Hasse's murder, noting that the group has a lot of members in the area and that his office has "put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year." A look at what authorities have so far gleaned about the Aryan Brotherhood's alleged involvement:
First, McLelland wasn't exaggerating about the "dents." In July 2012, his office won a life sentence for an Aryan Brotherhood enforcer over a shoot-out with a wayward member in Terrell, Texas. The bigger hit to the gang, though, was an indictment unsealed in November against 34 alleged Aryan Brotherhood members, including four bosses. The multi-agency task force responsible for the indictment was based in Houston, but the Kaufman County D.A.'s office was among those credited for the "devastating blow."
In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statewide warning that the Aryan Brotherhood might be "planning retaliation against law enforcement officials" who participated in the Houston case, adding that "high-ranking members" were "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." Hasse was not personally involved in the case, but he was gunned down on the same day two of the 34 Aryan Brotherhood members pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in Dallas.
The FBI and Kaufman County officials are also looking for a connection to the March 19 shooting of Colorado prisons director Tom Clements. Clements, like the McLellands, was shot inside his home. The suspect, Evan S. Ebel, was killed in nearby Decatur, Texas, on March 21 in a high-speed chase and shoot-out in which he used the same weapon used to kill Clements. Ebel was a member of the Colorado white supremacist prison gang 211 Crew.
The case against the Aryan Brotherhood is mostly circumstantial so far — at least as far as we know. And some outsiders point to other possible culprits. Oliver "Buck" Revell, the former head of the FBI's Dallas office, suggests that methamphetamine traffickers could be responsible. "It's been known for quite some time that Kaufman County has a huge problem in the drug area, and methamphetamine in particular," he tells The Dallas Morning News. "This bears the marks of an organized criminal enterprise, and I think the bottom of it is going to be methamphetamine."
"It could be local meth lab people down there in Kaufman County, it could be Mexican cartel, it could be the Aryan Brotherhood," adds former Dallas chief public defender Brad Lollar, who hired McLelland to work in his office in 2006. "Or it could just be someone with a personal grudge" tied to one of the mentally ill defendants he represented in Dallas. These theories aren't entirely mutually exclusive, since both the Aryan Brotherhood and Mexican cartels are involved in the meth trade.
If McLelland was killed by the Aryan Brotherhood, though, at least this time the assailants left some clues: The house was reportedly littered with shells from a .233 caliber rifle. The gunmen in the Hasse shooting left no casings behind. There may also be surveillance video from McLelland's house. But some attorneys worry about a "chilling effect" such high-profile killings will have on the law enforcement profession.
Glenn McGovern at the Santa Clara County, Calif., D.A.'s office says that attacks on prosecutors, judges, and senior law officials have jumped sharply in the past three years, even if they're still rare. McLelland himself couldn't understand Hasse's murder, calling it "such an anomaly."
This doesn't happen. The bad guys, they don't hate the prosecutors. They know that we're doing our job just like they are. It's so completely out of the ordinary and so strange that people are having a hard time getting their head around it because this is not business as usual. [Mike McLelland, via The Dallas Morning News]