Suspect in Texas Prosecutor Killings Has Nothing to Do With the Aryan Brotherhood

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
April 17 2013 11:56 AM

Suspect in Texas Prosecutor Killings Has Nothing to Do With the Aryan Brotherhood

Kim Lene Williams
Kim Lene Williams has been charged with capital murder in the Texas prosecutor killings.

Kaufman County Jail

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Update, April 17, 2:00 p.m.: The Dallas Morning News and NBCDFW.com are reporting that Kim Williams has been charged in the murders of Mark Hasse, Mike McLelland, and Cynthia McLelland, and is being held on a $10 million bond. Williams' arrest warrant alleges that she was the one who shot and killed the three victims. But the warrant also states that, during an interview on April 16, Kim Williams "described in detail her role along with that of her husband, Eric Williams whom she reported to have shot to death Mark Hasse on January 31, 2013 and Michael and Cynthia McLelland on March 30, 2013. During the interview, the defendant gave details of both offenses which had not been made public." So did Kim Williams shoot the prosecutors, or did Eric Williams do it? This is all very confusing. More updates as the story develops.

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When two prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas were killed within months of each other earlier this year, authorities and the media speculated that the murders of Mike McLelland and his assistant Mark Hasse might be linked. But who was responsible? Was it the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang that had vowed revenge after authorities moved against it late last year? Was it Mexican drug cartels? Some other sinister group of murderous prosecutor-haters?

Maybe it’s none of the above. Over the weekend, a former Kaufman County justice of the peace named Eric Lyle Williams was arrested and charged with making “terroristic threats” against county employees. Now, Williams' wife, Kim Lene Williams, has been arrested and charged with capital murder. According to the New York Times, it's not yet apparent whether Kim Williams has been charged with one, two, or all three of the killings. Eric Williams has not yet been charged in the deaths of Hasse, McLelland, and McLelland’s wife, though the Dallas Morning News reports that "[l]aw enforcement officials have said they expect capital murder charges to be filed against [him]."

One day after the McLellands’ bodies were found, Eric Williams allegedly sent authorities an anonymous email promising more killings unless certain unspecified demands were met. More than 20 weapons—some of them similar to the weapons used in the shootings—were found in a storage unit rented by Eric Williams, as was a Ford Crown Victoria that resembled a car seen near the McLellands’ house on the day of the shootings. Even before his wife was charged, Eric Williams was being held on $3 million bail.

Eric Williams, who has been accused of making death threats in the past, had particular reason to dislike Hasse and McLelland. In 2011, a few months after he was elected as a justice of the peace in Kaufman County, he was accused of stealing computer monitors from the county IT department. He was indicted on theft and burglary charges, suspended from office, and—with Hasse serving as the lead prosecutor—ultimately convicted and sentenced to probation. "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 of Eric Williams in his closing argument. (It's also worth noting that, according to the Morning News, Kim Williams testified at the trial "that her husband helped her cope with a host of medical problems," including rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome, and that "she feels like she constantly aches and has a fever.")

In the aftermath of the trial, the Morning News reports, Eric lost his law license and his health insurance, has had financial problems, and has spent his spare time dressing in camouflage and riding his Segway around his neighborhood. Eric Williams maintained that the case against him was motivated by residual animosity from some anti-McLelland newspaper advertisements that he’d been involved with during the 2006 election. In late 2011, his attorney filed a motion requesting that McLelland be removed from the stolen computer monitor case, claiming that “[t]he indictment on Mr. Williams was not the result of a crime having been committed as much as it was an attempt to settle a political grudge.” Certainly there were signs that McLelland disliked Eric Williams: the prosecutor, in what was arguably a gratuitous move, telephoned the Texas National Guard base where Williams served to inform them that he was facing criminal charges.

Eric Williams has vigorously denied any involvement in the prosecutor murders, and in fact voluntarily submitted to a gun residue test earlier this month. (According to his attorney, the test came back negative.) “If I was in their shoes, I'd do the same thing,” he said in an earlier statement regarding the investigation. “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.”

Though much still needs to be explained at this stage, the arrests of Williams and his wife serve as a lesson for all those who, like me, immediately jumped to the most extreme conclusions in the Hasse and McLelland cases. Most murders are committed by people who knew the victims, and that’s probably where the speculation should have started here.

Yes, these shootings were so brazen that it felt like they had to be the handiwork of some sinister gang that had nothing left to lose—like the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Murdering the two prosecutors would have required a lot of work and planning, though, to no real apparent benefit for the gang. Besides, if the gang members were to have gone after the men who tried to put them in jail, there were more obvious targets than Hasse and McLelland. The fact that the idea didn’t make much sense wasn’t seen as a major strike against the story, given that a lot of things that crazy prison gangs do don’t make much sense. Which is true, I guess, but still probably isn’t the best starting point when you’re trying to solve a couple of murders.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.