By Chris Francescani
KAUFMAN, Texas (Reuters) - Authorities named a new lead prosecutor on Wednesday in the 2012 indictment of 34 suspected members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang after the previous head of the case abruptly quit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hileman stepped aside on Tuesday in the wake of the second killing of a Texas prosecutor in two months. While investigators have not named a suspect or person of interest in the twin killings, crime experts identified the Aryan Brotherhood as a group that would come under suspicion.
Defense attorneys notified about Hileman's withdrawal cited unspecified security concerns, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Assistant Attorney Tim Braley, a deputy chief of the Justice Department's organized crime and gangs division, will now lead the multiagency investigation, said Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Dodge declined to discuss the reason for the change.
The racketeering charges accuse the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas of exerting control over prison populations and neighborhoods in Texas through intimidation and violence and involvement in three murders, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.
The government called the indictments a "devastating blow" to the white power prison gang's leadership, and the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in turn threatened law enforcement officers with revenge.
Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot dead near the courthouse on January 31. Two months later, on Saturday, District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were shot dead in their home. McLelland had publicly vowed to capture Hasse's killers.
The task force whose investigation led to the 34 indictments included Kaufman County prosecutors.
Earlier on Wednesday, officials said Texas Rangers had arrested a man for threatening investigators looking into the killings of the McLellands.
Nick Morale, 56, of Terrell, Texas, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with making a terroristic threat, said Lieutenant Justin Lewis, spokesman for the Kaufman County Sheriff's Department. He was being held on $1 million bond.
Morale was accused of making a telephone threat against a county official on a tip line for the case, Lewis said. There appeared to be no other connection to the McLelland or Hasse killings.
"At this time there is nothing to link Mr. Morale to the murders of Mike and Cynthia McLelland or Mark Hasse," Lewis said.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Todd Eastham)