The word "bravery" usually doesn’t come to mind when a Texan is appointed to a political office by the governor. But that word seems appropriate when applied to Erleigh Norville Wiley. Gov. Rick Perry on April 10 named her as the new Kaufman County district attorney.
Wiley replaces Mike McLelland, who was slain on March 30 along with his wife Cynthia inside their home near Forney. Two months earlier, Mark Hasse, a Kaufman County assistant district attorney, was fatally shot while walking from the employee parking lot to work.
Wiley, who currently serves as judge of Kaufman County Court-at-Law No. 1, told a crowd of reporters outside the Kaufman County Courthouse on April 11 that she’s ready to take over the small DA’s office.
"I was born and raised here. And I want the people of Kaufman County to know that the Kaufman County District Attorney, the office, is fully operational and our work on all the criminal cases and the county’s daily business is moving forward," Wiley says.
"It is my hope that the people of Texas will continue to keep Kaufman County in their prayers, as I do, especially the law enforcement officers and the district attorney’s staff that are working tirelessly to solve these crimes. I am confident that brighter days are ahead for Kaufman County."
Wiley, whose nomination as DA the Texas Senate will consider April 17, says she recognizes the potential hazards of her new job. Yet that was something she already felt simply by holding office in Kaufman County, she says.
"There is danger. But, I mean, we’re all in danger here in Kaufman County until we figure out who’s done these horrible things to Mike and Cynthia and Mark," says Wiley.
"We’re all still in danger. So, I don’t know if I’m stepping in any more danger than I already was. I don’t know how to speak to that, except that we need to step up," she says.
Before Wiley was elected to the bench in 2002, she served as a supervising attorney at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. She is also president of the Kaufman County Juvenile Board and the Kaufman Indigent Defense Board.
"I don’t know her, but I’m glad he acted swiftly," says Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, about the governor’s appointment of Wiley. He notes that the Legislature must confirm the appointment.
That’s not the only action in the Legislature related to the prosecutors’ killings.
After Hasse’s death but before his own murder, McLelland approached Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, and asked the lawmaker to file two bills. House Bill 1845 would clarify that killing a DA is capital murder, and HB 2063 would allow a district, county or municipal prosecutor to carry a handgun openly. Two other lawmakers have filed bills similar to Gooden’s proposals.
"I know a lot of members openly support those two ideas," Kepple says.
Shannon Edmonds, TDCAA staff attorney for governmental relations, says he’s working with lawmakers on another idea to protect prosecutors. It involves restricting their personal information on the Internet, "like home addresses, family members’ information, that sort of thing," he explains.
The TDCAA board on April 5 passed a resolution encouraging prosecutors to donate money for the reward to help solve the Kaufman murders.
Tassie Gamble, president of Kaufman County Crime Stoppers, says 10 to 15 prosecutors have donated.