Former Kaufman justice of the peace faces capital murder charge

Posted Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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KAUFMAN -- As expected, the Kaufman County sheriff announced on Thursday that a capital murder case would be filed against a former justice of the peace who had a grudge against Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, Cynthia, and assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse.

Eric Lyle Williams blamed McLelland and Hasse for a theft conviction that ended his career, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said at a news conference.

Williams' wife told investigators that she was the getaway driver when her husband shot Hasse as he walked to work at the Kaufman County courthouse on Jan. 31, Byrnes said. She was a passenger when her husband drove to the McLelland home on March 30 to kill the couple.

"Basically, this was a collaborative effort between Eric Williams and his wife," the sheriff said.

According to investigators, both McLelland and Hasse were concerned that Williams was a threat to them, going so far as to carry handguns after his theft conviction last year. Although the prosecutors had sought prison time for Williams, he was sentenced to probation.

Eric Williams, 46, remained in the Kaufman County Jail Thursday with bail set at $23 million. Kim Lene Williams, 46, who was arrested early Wednesday, is jailed with bail set at $3 million.

She also faces a capital murder charge.

Criminal defense attorneys Toby Shook and Bill Wirskey, both former Dallas County prosecutors, have been appointed as special prosecutors in the case. Jail records did not indicate defense attorneys for the Williamses.

Byrnes acknowledged the unusual circumstances, calling Eric Williams' arrest "mind-boggling."

Arrest warrant affidavits released this week describe a plot in which Eric Williams rented a storage unit in Seagoville in a friend's name to store weapons and a car that authorities have linked to one or both killings.

Byrnes said that although Williams "has always been on the radar," investigators did not have the evidence to tie everything together until this week. "The discovery of the storage locker probably was the watershed event that put us on to this," he said.

According to an affidavit, Williams' friend contacted authorities last week and told them that Williams had asked him to rent the storage unit for his in-laws, telling him that he did want the unit in his name because of his "concern about police searches relating to his ongoing legal problems."

Investigators searched the unit on Saturday and found a Crown Victoria matching a car seen in a security video taken in the McLellands' neighborhood the day they were killed, according to the warrant.

Williams used a false name to purchase the Crown Victoria in February, investigators said.

Also in the storage unit were 41 firearms, including eight .223-caliber weapons, authorities said. Investigators believe a .223-caliber firearm killed the McLellands. Ammunition consistent with that used in all three slayings was also found, according to the warrant.

During a search of Williams' and his in-laws' homes, officers found three handguns, night vision goggles, a balaclava-style mask and multiple cell phones. From the storage locker, they seized 41 firearms, and ammunition consistent with ammo used in both slayings.

After the McLellands were killed, Kaufman authorities received emails in which the author confessed to all three slayings and threatened more violence against county officials. The author tried to hide his identity, but investigators traced the emails to a computer in Williams' home, according to the warrant affidavit.

Computer analysts also learned that Williams had used Lexis Nexis searches to get personal information, such as home addresses, for Hasse and the McLellands.

Eric Williams has been jailed since he was arrested Saturday on suspicion that he sent the emails.

Williams grew up near Azle and graduated from TCU in 1989 with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice. At TCU, Williams was also involved in ROTC, according to his alumni profile page.

In 1999, Williams graduated from Texas Wesleyan Law School, the same school where McLelland obtained his law degree in 1993.

Records at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education show that Williams served 14 years as a peace officer and more than five years as a reserve officer. As a peace officer, he worked in Lakeside, White Settlement, Springtown, Roanoke, the Hood County Sheriff's Department and the Tarrant County Hospital District. After practicing law for about 10 years in Kaufman County, Williams was elected justice of the peace in 2010.

Investigators believe Williams sought revenge for being found guilty of stealing three computer monitors from a county office building last year. The conviction is under appeal. But it resulted in his removal from his JP post and the loss of his law license and left him in financial straits.

During the trial, McLelland and Hasse portrayed Williams as a dishonest public officials with a dangerous streak. During closing arguments, prosecutors presented evidence that Williams had made death threats against another local attorney and a former girlfriend.

Williams has appealed the conviction, and on March 29 -- a day before the McLellands' bodies were found -- a state appeals court in Dallas agreed to hear oral arguments in the case.

McLelland served in the Army for 23 years. While on active duty, he received a master's degree in counseling psychology. Later he worked for several years as a diagnostic psychologist, including at the Terrell state hospital.

County Judge Bruce Wood recalled that after Hasse was killed, McLelland repeatedly told him that he believed Williams was the gunman.

"He very pointedly said to me, 'I know who did this.' I said, 'Well, who, Mike?' He said, 'Well, Eric Williams.'" McLelland described Williams as "a narcissistic psychopath" during that conversation and others, Wood said.

Investigators have said there was no sign of forced entry at the McLellands' house.

Marcus Busch, a U.S. Justice Department attorney who worked with Hasse in the Dallas DA's office and later went into private practice with him, said he was stunned to learn that it was Eric Williams and his wife charged with his friend's slaying.

"I just don't understand how somebody in a white-collar case who received probation decides to throw away his own life with the senseless murder of people who were simply doing their jobs," Busch said.

This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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