Texas authorities arrested the wife of a disgraced former justice of the peace, Eric Williams, on Wednesday, and charged her with the killings of Kaufman County, Texas, prosecutor Mike McLelland, his wife, and one of his top assistants, Mark Hasse. Kim Williams, 46, was charged with capital murder, meaning she could face the death penalty. (According to the Kaufman County Sheriff's office, Kim confessed to the killings to investigators.) Eric Williams, 46, hasn't been charged yet, but he's already in jail, with bond set at $3 million, for allegedly sending an anonymous, threatening e-mail to law enforcement officials.
Initially, investigators worked on the theory that the most likely suspects were members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang. The Kaufman County prosecutors had a hand in a task force that moved against the gang last year, and its members had vowed to retaliate. Recently, however, authorities started focusing on Williams, who was a lawyer and peace officer until last year, when he was convicted of stealing computer equipment in a case handled by McLelland and Hasse.
Williams lost his license to practice law after the conviction, and complained that his dramatic fall left him facing extreme financial hardship. He said his wife was "ill and on disability," and her elderly and ailing parents, who live nearby, were also suffering. Williams insisted that McLelland had prosecuted him to settle a political grudge — and that McLelland used evidence that had been tampered with to convict him. The murder case zeroed in on the couple on Saturday, when investigators searched a storage unit a friend rented on Williams' behalf, and found it filled with guns and a white Ford Crown Victoria similar to a vehicle witnesses spotted fleeing the scene after Hasse's murder in January.
The case sure looks different now. "Initial media speculation and reporting was almost entirely wrong," says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection — much like in the Newtown and Boston Marathon cases. Journalists rushed to cite this as a case of "white supremacists" running amok, and now investigators are saying it's connected to a disgruntled peace officer and his wife, who went over the edge.
Justin Peters at Slate says he can see why authorities focused on a violent gang first. "These shootings were so brazen that it felt like they had to be the handiwork of some sinister gang that had nothing left to lose — like the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas," he says. Assassinating two prosecutors certainly seems like the kind of dark mission that "would have required a lot of work and planning." On second thought, though, it's not clear how, precisely, the gang would have stood to benefit.
Besides, if the gang members were to have gone after the men who tried to put them in jail, there were more obvious targets than Hasse and McLelland. The fact that the idea didn't make much sense wasn't seen as a major strike against the story, given that a lot of things that crazy prison gangs do don't make much sense. Which is true, I guess, but still probably isn't the best starting point when you're trying to solve a couple of murders. [Slate]