Less than two months after an assistant district attorney was shot to death outside the local courthouse, the Kaufman County District Attorney and his wife were discovered slain in their North Texas home March 30, leading some to suspect that the Texas law enforcement officials may have been targeted by a violent prison gang.
Kaufman County Sheriff’s Lt. Justin Lewis told the Associated Press that the bodies of Mark McLelland, 63, and his wife Cynthia Woodward McLelland, 65, were discovered Saturday in their home just outside of Forney, a town of 15,000 people that is 20 miles east of Dallas.
According to the Atlantic Wire, the McLellands’ bodies were found by a family friend who came to call on them when family members could not reach them. The couple were shot multiple times by one or more unknown assailants, and there were no apparent signs of burglary. “It appears this was not a random act,” Forney Mayor Darren Rozell told the Associated Press.
An unnamed law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the grisly crime scene to the Dallas Morning News. “There are shell casings everywhere,” the official said. “This is unprecedented. This is unbelievable. This is huge.”
WFAA-TV in Dallas reported that a .223-caliber assault rifle, similar to an AR-15, was used in the murders, with approximately 14 rounds fired. McLelland was found in the hallway, where it seems he was shot in the back while fleeing his attackers. His wife was found dead in the front room of the house.
On January 31, ADA Mark Hasse was gunned down in a parking lot outside the Kaufman County courthouse by one or two unidentified gunmen who may have been wearing tactical vests. Hasse was no stranger to the tactics used by his killers, having headed the organized crime unit for the Dallas County district attorney in the 1980s, wrote the Houston Chronicle.
At Hasse’s memorial service in February, McLelland publicly vowed to bring his killers to justice. Addressing the “scum” responsible, McLelland said, “He knows and I know there will be a reckoning,” wrote WFAA.
Details on the killings in Kaufman County are still emerging, but many believe that the murders of the McLellands and Hasse are connected. “It looks like somebody is making a pretty concentrated effort to target the most important people in that office,” said Eric Smenner, a Kaufman defense attorney.
Law enforcement officials seem to agree that there is a good chance that the murders are connected. “It was a shock with Mark Hasse, and now you can just imagine the double shock and until we know what happened,” Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh told the Dallas Morning News. “I really can’t confirm that it’s related but you always have to assume until it’s proven otherwise.”
Sam Rosander, a resident of the area where the McLellands lived told the AP that that sheriff’s deputies were parked in the district attorney’s driveway for about a month after Hasse’s murder. McLelland was known to carry a firearm with him at all times after Hasse was killed, wrote the San Antonio Express-News.
Authorities are investigating whether the murders may be connected to a Texas gang that the Kaufman prosecutors helped put behind bars. Members of McLelland’s office assisted the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and other Texas law enforcement agencies in an investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) prison gang. Their efforts assisted in a recent case that earned indictments for several of its top leaders, wrote the New York Times. Federal authorities announced in November that a Houston grand jury charged 30 top leaders and other members on charges of conspiracy to participate in racketeering, as well as involvement in three murders, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings and assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, wrote the Times.
Nov. 2012 news conference announcing the arrest of dozens of Texas members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Associated Press | Cody Duty
The ABT has no proven connection to the McLelland murders, but the gang is under investigation for involvement in Hasse’s death. The U.S. Marshals Service stated in an email to the Dallas Morning News: “The focus of our investigation involves the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) being responsible for the murder of the ADA.”
In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety released a statewide bulletin stating it had received “credible information” that the ABT was planning retaliatory measures against any law enforcement officials who helped earn the indictments of its top leadership:
High ranking members … are 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.
The ABT is notorious for its violent methods. The Anti-Defamation League claims that since 2000, the group, “which has no relationship to the older, ‘original’ Aryan Brotherhood has killed more Americans than any other domestic extremist group,” wrote the Huffington Post. The ADL reported that in 2012 the ABT were involved in 29 murders in Texas and bordering states. This figure does not include crimes committed inside the prison system.
The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas has been active in state prisons since the 1980s, when it began as a white supremacist gang that ran illegal activities including drug distribution, Terry Pelz, a former Texas prison warden, told the Houston Chronicle.
The Kaufman killings have heightened fears that other public figures may be targeted. Security has been bolstered at the courthouse and around the small community. “It’s unnerving to the law enforcement community, to the community at large,” said Kaufman County Sheriff David A. Byrnes at a news conference March 31. “That’s why we’re striving to assure the community that we are protecting public safety and will continue to do that.”