Desperate for clues, state officials are offering a $200,000 reward for information that leads them to whomever killed a small town Texas district attorney, his wife and one of his assistant prosecutors.
On March 30, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia were found shot inside their house near Forney. The slaying comes two months after the death of Mark Hasse, a Kaufman County assistant district attorney who was fatally shot while walking from the employee parking lot on his way to work.
"We have very capable law enforcement. These are some of the best in the world at what they do. And, in the final analysis, these people will be found and be punished," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry at an April 4 press conference inside the Kaufman County Courthouse. He was flanked by more than 20 federal and state law enforcement officials who are working the murder cases.
"We are doing everything we can, obviously, to bring this to a positive conclusion," says Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes. "Call us with any information, no matter how minor you think it is."
Billboards with the words "Seeking Information. Prosecutors Murdered" and advertising the $200,000 reward went up across Texas on April 4.
The murders have been "unnerving" for 10 prosecutors who remain in the office, says Kaufman County Assistant DA Brandi Fernandez. Mike and Cynthia were considered the "dad and mom" of the office, and McLelland often brought the prosecutors cookies, she says.
"We keep expecting that it’s not real," Fernandez said during the press conference. "But it is."
Despite the murders, the Kaufman County DA’s Office has not asked for any continuances in court, and prosecutors plan to keep up with their trial dockets, Fernandez says.
"We’re going to honor Mike by staying here and getting the job done," she says.
Meanwhile, other district attorneys’ offices in Texas are beefing up security in the wake of McLelland’s slaying, including Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, who heads Texas’ largest DA’s office.
"The sheriff called him Saturday [March 30] and they are working with our chief investigator about what additional security needs to be placed here at the Harris County Courthouse," says Sara Marie Kinney, public relations director for the Harris County DA’s Office.
The Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are all working together to find McLelland’s killers, says Katie Chaumont, a spokeswoman for Dallas’ FBI office.
Numerous other local, state and federal agencies are also providing assistance, including the Kaufman County constables’ offices, the Forney Police Department, the Kaufman Police Department, the Terrell Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
While investigators likely are combing through Kaufman County case files in a search for suspects, it’s also likely that law enforcement is receiving help from criminal defense lawyers, says Gary Udashen, a partner in Dallas’ Sorrels Udashen & Anton.
Udashen notes that the attorney/client privilege would prevent a criminal defense lawyer from providing information to law enforcement if a client had direct involvement in a crime.
"What I think is more likely to happen is that some client tells a defense lawyer that they heard something about what had happened. Then, that would be something that a defense lawyer could find a way to share with the authorities," Udashen says. "If you have a client that is giving you information, they are giving it to you to share with the authorities, most likely. And I’m sure every lawyer in this area is listening for information that could help," Udashen says.
Udashen says the investigation into McLelland’s murder is quickly turning into the biggest of its kind for Texas law enforcement. The only other similar example, he says, was the 1979 murder of John H. Wood Jr., a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas who was assassinated outside of his San Antonio home.
Anyone with information about the slayings is asked to call Kaufman County Crime Stoppers at 1-877-847-7522, or submit a tip online at www.kaufmancountycrimestoppers.org. Callers may remain anonymous.