By Chris Francescani
(Reuters) - A former Texas court official who lost his law license after a theft conviction last year has been charged with capital murder in the killings of the two attorneys that prosecuted his case and one of the men's wives, authorities said Thursday.
Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace convicted of stealing office computer monitors, was being held on $23 million bond, said Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes.
"If there was a motive, it appears it was from his past legal problems in the criminal justice system in this county," Byrnes said.
Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death on March 30 at their home, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down execution-style near the county courthouse.
On Wednesday, Kim Williams, his wife, confessed to driving the getaway car in the Hasse attack and said her husband was the trigger man, according to arrest warrants released in the case. She told investigators her husband killed the McLellands, and that she was a passenger in the getaway car.
The killings of the Texas prosecutors, as well as the March slaying of the Colorado prisons chief in an attack blamed on a white supremacist parolee, raised concerns about the possibility of law enforcement officials being targeted for assassination.
Investigators initially looked into the possibility that white supremacists were involved in the Texas slayings, but in the end focused their attention on Williams.
Both Hasse and McLelland were involved in prosecuting a theft case against Williams last year that led to his conviction and the subsequent loss of his law license.
Williams, 46, was first arrested on April 13 on a charge of making a "terroristic" threat, which generally involves a threat to commit violence. His wife was arrested on Wednesday.
Byrnes said on Thursday that the Williams committed the crimes alone, and no other suspects were being sought. Eric Williams has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks.
The theft conviction upended the couple's life, said Jenny C. Parks, a bankruptcy attorney who has known Eric Williams for 20 years. But he had been anticipating a May appeal of the conviction, she said.
"He seemed happy because his appeal was coming up in May," Parks said.
"'Why would I kill someone when this will soon be over?'" Parks quoted Eric Williams as telling her recently.
Parks said Williams had appeared "very calm" in recent days, even as investigators tested his hands for gunshot residue, questioned him repeatedly and searched his home as part of the investigation.
"If he is guilty, he was a very good actor," Parks said.
The killings sparked a wave of anxiety that swept through courthouses and sheriff departments statewide in the wake of the shootings. Local and federal prosecutors in neighboring cities and counties were given round-the-clock security details. Other prosecutors and court officials armed themselves.
In arrest warrant affidavits released late Thursday, authorities said the key break in the case came Saturday when an unnamed friend of Williams called officials and told them that late last year, Williams asked the man to rent a storage facility for him in nearby Seagoville, Texas, and gave the man cash for a one-year prepaid rental term.
The friend told investigators that Williams said he didn't want to rent the storage unit in his own name because of his ongoing legal issues, and because police would want to search the unit, according to court documents.
When police did search the unit, they found a cache of 41 firearms, ammunition consistent with the caliber of bullets used to kill the McLellands, numerous police badges, an incendiary device that authorities said in court documents is "used to destroy evidence," and a crossbow.
(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Edith Honan, Gerald E. McCormick, Cyntiha Johnston and Bernard Orr)