KAUFMAN, Texas – Two days after a Texas district attorney and his wife were found shot to death in their home, authorities have said little about their investigation or any potential suspects.
But suspicion in the slayings shifted to a white supremacist gang with a long history of violence and retribution that was also the focus of a December law enforcement bulletin warning that its members might try to attack police or prosecutors.
Four top leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas were indicted in October for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking. Two months later, authorities issued the bulletin warning that the gang might try to retaliate against law enforcement for the investigation that led to the arrests of 34 of its members on federal charges.
Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found dead Saturday in their East Texas home. The killings were especially jarring because they happened just a couple of months after one of the county’s assistant district attorneys, Mark Hasse, was killed in a parking lot near his courthouse office.
McLelland was part of a multi-agency task force that took part in the investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood. The task force also included the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as police departments in Houston and Fort Worth.
Investigators have declined to say if the group is the focus of their efforts, but the state Department of Public Safety bulletin warned that the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is “involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials involved in the recent case.”
Terry Pelz, a former Texas prison warden and expert on the Aryan Brotherhood said killing law enforcement representatives would be uncharacteristic of the group.
“They don’t go around killing officials,” he said. “They don’t draw heat upon themselves.”
But Pelz, who worked in the Texas prison system for 21 years, added that the gang has a history of threatening officials and of killing its own member or rivals. He suggested if the Aryan Brotherhood was behind the slayings in Kaufman County, some sort of disruption in the gang’s operations might have prompted their retaliation.
That disruption might have come last year, when federal prosecutors in Houston in November announced indictments against 34 alleged members of the gang, including four of its top leaders in Texas. At the time, prosecutors called the indictment “a devastating blow to the leadership” of the gang.
Meanwhile, deputies escorted some Kaufman County employees into the courthouse Monday after the slayings stirred fears that other public employees could be targeted. Law enforcement officers were seen patrolling outside the courthouse, one holding a semi-automatic weapon, while others walked around inside.
Deputies were called to the McLelland home by relatives and friends who had been unable to reach the pair, according to a search warrant affidavit.
When they arrived, investigators found the two had been shot multiple times. Cartridge casings were scattered near their bodies, the affidavit said.
Authorities have not discussed a motive.
“I don’t want to walk around in fear every day ... but on the other hand, two months ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” County Judge Bruce Wood, the county’s top administrator, said Monday at a news conference.
The killings also came less than two weeks after Colorado’s prison chief was shot to death at his front door, apparently by an ex-convict.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Texas were on high alert, and steps were being taken to better protect other DAs and their staffs.
In Harris County, which includes Houston, District Attorney Mike Anderson said he accepted the sheriff’s offer of 24-hour security for him and his family. Anderson said he also would take precautions at his office, the largest of its kind in Texas, with more than 270 prosecutors.
“I think district attorneys across Texas are still in a state of shock,” Anderson said Sunday.
McLelland, 63, was the 13th prosecutor killed in the U.S. since the National Association of District Attorneys began keeping count in the 1960s.
Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes would not give details Sunday of how the killings unfolded and said there was nothing to indicate for certain whether the DA’s slaying was connected to Hasse’s.
El Paso County, Colo., sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Joe Roybal said investigators had so far found no evidence connecting the Texas killings to the Colorado case, but added: “We’re examining all possibilities.”
Colorado’s corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman.
In an Associated Press interview shortly after the Colorado slaying, McLelland himself raised the possibility that Hasse was gunned down by a white supremacist gang.
McLelland, elected in 2010, said his office had prosecuted several cases against such gangs, particularly one known as the Aryan Brotherhood. The groups have a strong presence around Kaufman County, a mostly rural area dotted with subdivisions, with a population of about 104,000.
No arrests have been made in Hasse’s Jan. 31 slaying. After that attack, McLelland said, he carried a gun everywhere around town, even when walking his dog. He figured assassins were more likely to try to attack him outside. He said he had warned all his employees to be constantly on the alert.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk in Houston, Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth and P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.