Perry cites border security in Kaufman County DA's death

Posted Thursday, Apr. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When a Fox News reporter questioned Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday about the investigation into the slayings of two Kaufman County prosecutors, Perry said it was too early to speculate.

Then the outspoken governor spent a few minutes doing just that.

In an interview with Fox's Jenna Lee, Perry tied the killings to one of his favorite topics: the federal government's role in Texas' porous border.

"We know the drug cartels are very, very active in this country," Perry said. "It goes back to the whole issue of border security and the failure of the federal government ... to expend the dollars necessary to secure the border with Mexico."

He offered no evidence of how the slayings might have border connections.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, 63, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, were found dead Saturday, shot in their home near Forney, about 20 miles southeast of Dallas.

Their deaths came two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was fatally shot while walking from his car to his office in the county courthouse.

So far, investigators have not identified a suspect or even officially connected the two slayings.

But speculation has arisen about the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white- supremacist prison gang that McLelland and Hasse had investigated.

The speculation was fueled by the killing of Colorado's prison director March 19.

The main suspect in that case was Evan Ebel, a member of a Colorado white-supremacist prison gang who was killed in a shootout in Texas on March 21. On Wednesday, Colorado authorities issued an "officer safety bulletin" naming two members of the same gang.

Asked to clarify Perry's comments to Fox, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said her boss did not mean to imply any specific connection between the Kaufman County investigation and border security but was instead "speaking globally."

"We would be remiss if we left any stone unturned. He was just saying we shouldn't speculate on who it is, whether it's the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mexican cartels or any other criminal element," she said.

Terry Pelz, a former Texas prison warden who has studied prison gangs, described any connection between the Aryan Brotherhood and border security threats as a bit of a stretch.

While the gang, like many of the state's prison gangs, has been known to team up with criminal organizations south of the border, the Aryan Brotherhood is a homegrown Anglo operation -- born in the Texas prison system in the 1980s and forged with ironclad rules governing membership, he said.

"Like all white-supremacist gang groups, they form around racial lines," Pelz said.

Still, Perry kept the focus on the border during the Fox News interview.

"It's really at the heart of this issue," he said. "You secure the border, and it makes it harder for these individuals to have access into this country."

Threat on tip line

In Kaufman County on Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department announced the arrest Tuesday of a Terrell man accused of leaving a threatening message on a tip line set for the investigation of the slayings.

Nick Morale, 57, was in the Kaufman County Jail on Wednesday night with bail set at $1 million.

Morale is not a suspect in the killings, authorities said.

Morale called the tip line at 1:43 p.m. Monday and said another county official "would be the next victim," according to an arrest warrant affidavit compiled by Texas Department of Public Safety investigator Eric W. Wilson.

The name of the threatened official was blacked out on the affidavit.

"There is nothing to link Mr. Morale to the investigations of the murders of Mike and Cynthia McLelland or Mark Hasse," said Lt. Justin Lewis, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.

Lewis conducted an afternoon news briefing outside the county law enforcement center, where the U.S. and Texas flags were at half-staff.

"Investigators from many law enforcement agencies are working on leads that have been received on the tip line and through other channels," Lewis said. "Those tips are all being investigated and vetted thoroughly."

Morale's neighbors in Terrell, about 12 miles north of the city of Kaufman, told the Los Angeles Times that they saw Texas Rangers arrest him and remove boxes from his town house Tuesday, including long gun-shaped boxes.

They described Morale as an eccentric widower who railed against gun control, dropping pamphlets on the issue at their homes.

They said he doted on his dog -- a sign at the house reads "A spoiled rotten bichon lives here" -- planted a vegetable garden and shared his harvest.

Neighbors were skeptical that Morale might be involved in the shootings.

"He's just a weird dude," said one neighbor who asked not to be identified because of safety concerns. "There's no way he was the one who did all that stuff."

'I'd do the same thing'

Earlier Wednesday, a former Kaufman County justice of the peace who was convicted in a corruption case prosecuted by McLelland's office said that he voluntarily submitted to a gun residue test and turned over his cellphone Saturday night after authorities contacted him while investigating the deaths.

Eric Williams said he has cooperated and hopes that authorities find who fatally shot the couple.

"If I was in their shoes, I'd do the same thing," Williams said of investigators in a statement released by his attorney.

"They need to do a thorough process of elimination and I have no hard feelings toward the prosecution in my trial, or of being asked about the recent slayings."

The attorney, David Sergi, said that after Hasse's death, Williams also submitted to a gun residue test and gave his cellphone to authorities.

Williams was convicted in March 2012 of burglary of a building and theft by a public servant, and he was later sentenced to two months of probation.

Staff writer Bill Hanna contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press, the San Antonio Express-News and the Los Angeles Times.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

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