Monday, April 15, 2013

Feud Among Members Of The Legal Community Apparently Drove Murders Of Texas Prosecutors

Eric Williams
The prime suspect in the recent assassinations of three people connected to a Texas district attorney's office turns out to be . . . a lawyer.

In fact, Eric Williams had been a judicial officer. Williams, who once served as justice of the peace in Kaufman County, was arrested over the weekend in connection with the shooting deaths of assistant DA Mike Hasse (January 31) and DA Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia (March 30).

Who is the bad guy in all of this? Finding an answer to that question is not as easy as it might appear. Williams faces charges of making terroristic threats, and it appears that murder charges will come any day. But a look beneath the surface shows that Williams might have been the victim of an abusive prosecution, one that eventually led him to lash out.

Press reports had included speculation that white supremacists might be behind the murders. But The Dallas Morning News reports that a former member of the justice community now is the No. 1 suspect--and revenge, sparked by an office feud, probably is the motive.

The day after the bodies of McLelland and his wife were found, county officials received an anonymous e-mail stating that more attacks were imminent. Authorities traced the e-mail to Williams. What drove him to send such a message? From The Morning News report:

Williams was convicted of stealing county equipment last year and sentenced to probation in a highly contentious case prosecuted by McLelland and Hasse. That case is on appeal. Williams faces another theft charge in a case related to money allegedly misused from a law library fund.

Under Texas law, a justice of the peace is not required to be a lawyer, but Williams has a law degree and was a member of the bar. After his conviction on theft charges, Williams was suspended from his office and likely will lose his law license if the conviction is upheld.

Williams was sentenced last April to two years probation and fined $2,500. He alleges in appellate documents that at least two prosecution witnesses provided false testimony.

How did a justice of the peace wind up getting charged with theft? The Dallas Morning News provides details in an article titled "Complex picture arises of ex-Kaufman justice of peace eyed in case."

Williams stood accused of felony theft of property worth more than $500 but less than $1,500 by a public servant and burglary.

At issue were three computer monitors taken from a county storage area. Two of the monitors were found in Williams’ county office, according to testimony. The third was located in his truck.

In court documents, Williams said he never committed theft. He said he took the monitors so that he could conduct hearings with jail prisoners from his office, a process known as “video magistration.”

He said he’d planned to take the monitor in his truck to the jail but hadn’t gotten around to it.

At the heart of most any theft case is an intent to deceive and deprive the owner of possession of property. Two of the monitors that Williams supposedly stole were found in his county office. A third was found in his vehicle, apparently in plain view. If Williams was trying to deprive anyone of property, while hiding his actions, he sure had a peculiar way of doing it.

The case gets murkier when we learn that Williams and McLelland had long had a contentious relationship. Williams had publicly opposed McLelland's unsuccessful run for the DA's office in 2006, leading to a feud that apparently continued after both men were elected to public office in 2010. Reports The Morning News:

By Williams’ account, there was bad blood between him and McLelland long before Williams first faced criminal charges in late 2011. That was less than a year after Williams was elected as a justice of the peace and McLelland became DA.

Williams tried to get McLelland disqualified from prosecuting him, according to court records. David Sergi, one of Williams’ attorneys, wrote that “a high degree of animosity” developed when Williams opposed McLelland’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for the DA’s office.

Sergi alleged that the “mutual dislike . . . only intensified” when Williams published a letter shortly before the 2006 election day “questioning whether McLelland possessed sufficient character and integrity to hold office.”

McLelland and Hasse seemed to take unusual delight in seeing Williams tried and convicted. Here is how The Kaufman Herald described some of their comments during and after the trial:

Suspended justice of the peace Eric Williams has been found guilty on all charges by a Kaufman County jury in the 422nd District Court on Friday.

“I’m ecstatic,” District Attorney Mike McLellan said after the verdicts were announced. “It shows the community that elected officials should be, and are, held to a higher standard. It’s not the old system over here any more. . . .”

What did Hasse have to say about Williams?

"This guy sitting over at the end of the defense table is an elected official who is nothing but a thief and a burglar," Hasse said.

At least one member of the Kaufman County legal community did not agree with McLelland and Hasse. In fact, this lawyer says Williams was targeted for a bogus prosecution:

Kaufman County attorney Jenny Parks said that she believed that Williams was the victim of a political vendetta “without a doubt.” 
“The whole thing was a witch hunt and anyone in the legal community here knows that,” she said. . . . 
“The items he ‘stole’ were only for county use because . . . the IT department wouldn’t fix his computer,” Parks said. “Eric is a computer whiz and the IT guy took offense to that.”

Many questions remain about the Texas DA murders. But this much seems clear: A feud among lawyers apparently drove them--and white supremacists had nothing to do with it.

For now, this appears to be a matter of a county official taking a couple of computers out of storage and using them in his office--and taking one computer home to work on it when IT personnel refused to fix it. For that, Eric Williams was charged with theft, and saw his professional career ruined.

We have reported extensively on the abusive actions of prosecutors, especially in the federal cases of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi. We now have a state case in Texas where two prosecutors apparently decided to pick on a guy they saw as a political rival--and it looks like Eric Williams proved to be the wrong guy to pick on.

Would Mike McLelland and Mike Hasse have brought such a flimsy theft case against one of their buddies? The answer, in my mind, is "of course not." They went after Eric Williams because they didn't like him and saw him as a threat to their political aspirations. In other words they "prosecuted a person, not a crime"--and that decision had deadly consequences.


Anonymous said...

This was so predictable! Thank you for reporting LS!

Anonymous said...

If they didn't like each other then why did his wife open the door?

Anonymous said...

This story made my day!

Anonymous said...

I had a feeling that white supremacist story line was bogus.

Dog Day said...

I had seen this reported over the weekend, but did not know about the shakiness of the criminal charges brought against the justice of the peace. That doesn't excuse murder, of course, but it's an angle of the story that needs to be spotlighted.

Anonymous said...

The guy was charged with theft when he put two storage computers in his own office? The computers didn't even leave the building? That sounds insane to me. This was a jury trial, and they got 12 people to convict on this?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 12:29--

The facts are murky on this point, but I believe the computers (actually, I think they were just monitors) did not leave the building. One report I've seen says Williams had more than one office, so the computers might have gone from one of his offices in Building A to another of his offices in Building B. Still, this sounds like the guy might have violated office procedure, at most, and the DA turned it into a crime.

Anonymous said...

Ditto 12:11

Anonymous said...

If William's allegations are true, I have no sympathy for the prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if a storage clerk reported the computer monitors as missing. Most places have a surplus office or equipment accounting, where they keep track of stuff like this. If something was missing, they could have sent out a memo, asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of said monitors. Williams probably would have said, "Hey I've got 'em," and somebody could have introduced him to the paperwork that needed to be filled out and . . . problem solved.

It sounds like these prosecutors turned an administrative snafu into a criminal act--and four lives have been ruined because of it.

legalschnauzer said...

I saw somewhere on the Web that a news site had video, which apparently was used at trial, of Williams walking down a hallway with a computer monitor in hand. It didn't show where he was going, although it apparently was after hours or on a weekend, but he had a key to the building. Again, I don't see an intent to deprive the county of property, given that two monitors were found in his office and one in his car, in plain site. Will see if I can find that video

legalschnauzer said...

Here is URL to a good Daily Beast article on the Texas case:

legalschnauzer said...

Here is security footage of Williams carrying the computer monitors. It's from WFAA in Dallas/Fort Worth:

Anonymous said...

Attorneys can be stupid! They get so desensitized by what their jobs consist of and power drunk that they don't consider the consequences of the choices they make while thinking its cute that they play with and destroy people's lives. To destroy a mans life and expect no retaliation is just stupid.

Anonymous said...

On the Big Luther front - The cozy two-shot of Jessica Medeiros Garrison with Luther Strange that WAS her twitter profile pic has vanished completely from her page. She didn't just replace the profile pic - she took the picture completely off her page.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 3:49--

Thanks for the update about the Luther pic. Sounds like JMG is sensitive about that. I wonder why.

Anonymous said...

When the Bush Crime family moved to Texas it was over for the Lone Star Sleeping Giant.

The 'Texans' are simply tumbleweeds blowing dust devils at Timbuktu

The doorman didn't ring twice cause it appeared he was expected as not an adversary

jeffrey spruill said...

Sergi accuses two prosecution witnesses of providing false testimony.


Nah! Prosecuters don't instruct a person in a particular subject.

I mean- how would it look & what would happen to one's political career if caught?:

Anonymous said...

Are we so dumbed down as a nation that nobody gets that Boston was bombed on tax day and of course the JFK library! This reeks of NWO. I'd like to hear Coyote Lane opine on this! Has is not become obvious yet?

Anonymous said...

I have seen this before in LE.

Chief had a training ofc/ sgt arrested for false police report,m because ofcs trainee wrote down false statements.

The Trainee was dismissed but never prosecuted, while the ofc was arrested and prosecuted. The false facts were relating to slight observations of a arrestee, that the training ofc could not really have known to be untrue.

The training ofc was hated by the Chief for longstanding and well known personal reasons and that ofc became a convicted criminal and unemployed.

This is not at all uncommon in cases where personal conflicts arise among persons with special ability to commence investigations or criminal charges either as LE or as Prosecutors.

It seems that at A MINIMUM in this case, there is clear and certain evidence that a pre-existing personal animosity existeed between the prosecutors clique and Williams long before the computer monitor issue ever materialized based on Williams pre-existing published article that was highly critical of the men who later brought questionable charges against him.

'Theft' by statutory element almost always includes a intent to 'permanently deprive the owner of the usefulness' etc.. in every state law that I have ever seen, and in this case its not rationale that the equipment which was mostly in the county offices and all in the possession of a ranking justice, was ever in any probable cause standard really 'permanently deprived of its usefulness' while used by one of the counties agents for his public duties.
He may be guilty of violating county policies, but unless you find the monitors inside the local pawn shop or in his cousin bobs family room being used to play video games, there is no genuine case he was honestly guilty of.

AT BARE MINIMUM, given the proven pre-existing PERSONAL animosity between prosecutors and this Williams fellow, its basically insane for the Judge who handled the case NOT to force the prosecutor to recuse himself and move the prosecution to a neighborhing county.

Williams motion to replace these prosecutors CLEARLY should have been granted, not so that he can beat the case entirely, but so that a truly impartial prosecution could even potentially take place. This was not even close to being a honest or more importantly IMPARTIAL prosecution.

I really have no sympathy for the prosecutors in this case after learing the facts behind this case. I feel bad for any kids they had or family, but they used legal process to railroad a personal rival and are themselves actually guilty of official misconduct and half a dozen other severe charges as such

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 5:50--

Thanks for a thoughtful comment. I assume LE stands for law enforcement? Sounds like those in the field can eat their own.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the Dateline story on this which was fascinating and sad- but I kept thinking that there was more to the story. Prosecution for stealing old computer monitors - which caused him to lose his position and reputation in the community, along with his job and license to practice law- just seemed punitive. My dear old daddy used to tell me that just because you come across circumstances where you can destroy a person - just bc you don't like him- you better keep in mind that you can push a man over the edge and then someone gets hurt or killed. Not that it is justified- but it's not unpredictable.

Anonymous said...

Those prosecutors got what they deserved!!!