KAUFMAN, Texas (AP) — A former Texas justice of the peace seeking revenge for a theft conviction that ended his judicial career carried out a plot with his wife to kill the men who prosecuted him, authorities said Thursday.
Eric Lyle Williams, and his wife, Kim Williams, are charged with capital murder in the slayings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, Cynthia, and assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse.
Hasse and McLelland successfully prosecuted Eric Williams for theft last year, leading him to lose his law license and his position as justice of the peace — a judge who handles mostly administrative duties.
Authorities allege Williams, 46, was the gunman in all of the slayings. They say his wife, who is also 46, was the get-away driver when her husband shot Hasse on the street as he walked to work in January. They contend she was a passenger when her husband drove to the McLelland home to carry out those killings two months later, early on the morning of March 30.
"Basically, this was a collaborative effort between Eric Williams and his wife," Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said at a news conference Thursday.
According to investigators, the prosecutors had been concerned Williams might be a threat to them, going so far as to carry handguns after his theft conviction last year. Though prosecutors had sought prison time for Williams, he was sentenced to probation.
Eric Williams is being held on $23 million bond, and his wife is being held on $3 million bond. Online jail records do not indicate attorneys representing the couple.
Criminal defense attorneys Toby Shook and Bill Wirskey, both former Dallas County prosecutors, have been appointed as special prosecutors in the case.
The arrest warrants lay out a meticulous revenge plan, in which Eric Williams rented a storage unit in a friend's name to store a cache of weapons and a car that authorities say is tied to the McLellands' killings.
Byrnes said that while Williams "has always been on the radar" — investigators questioned him after Hasse's slaying and again after the McClellands' deaths — authorities 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," Byrnes said.
According to a search warrant, Williams' friend contacted authorities last week and told them the former justice of the peace earlier this year had asked him to rent the storage unit. The friend said Williams needed it to hide some items because of his ongoing legal problems.
Investigators searched the unit in Seagoville on Saturday and found a Crown Victoria matching security video of a car in the McLellands' neighborhood the day they were killed, according to the warrant. According to the affidavit, Williams used a false name to purchase the Crown Victoria in February.
Also found were 41 firearms, including eight .223-caliber weapons, authorities said. Investigators believe a .223-caliber firearm was used in the killings of the McLellands. Ammunition consistent with that used both in Hasse's and the McLellands' slayings was also found in the storage locker, according to the warrant.
After the McLellands were killed, authorities say they received emails in which the author confessed to all three slayings and threatened more violence against county officials. Though the author tried to hide his identity, investigators traced the emails to a computer in Williams' home, according to the warrant.
Eric Williams has been jailed since he was arrested Saturday and charged with making a terroristic threat for allegedly emailing the anonymous threat to law officers.
Williams was elected to his judicial post in 2010 after practicing law in the county east of Dallas for a decade. He previously served as a peace officer in five North Texas cities and two counties, including Kaufman, according to records obtained by The Associated Press from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. As recently as December 2010, he was a reserve officer in the Kaufman County sheriff's department.
Byrnes acknowledged the unusual circumstances, calling Eric Williams' arrest "mind-boggling."
Authorities believe Williams committed the murders as revenge for a highly contentious prosecution in which he was found guilty of stealing three computer monitors from an office building last year.
During the trial, McLelland and Hasse portrayed Williams as a dishonest public officials with a dangerous streak. During closing arguments, the prosecutors presented evidence indicating 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.
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.