April 19, 2013 9:59:11 AM
KAUFMAN, Texas -- Investigators in the slayings of two North Texas prosecutors got their big break from a tip that pointed them to a cache of guns and a Crown Victoria hidden in a storage unit, a sheriff said.
When authorities uncovered the storage unit, they also unraveled what they contend was a meticulous revenge plot against the Kaufman County district attorney and a top assistant for their successful prosecution of a former justice of the peace for theft. That former official, Eric Lyle Williams, and his wife, Kim Williams, are charged with capital murder in the slayings of District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, Cynthia, and assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse.
Eric Williams was found guilty last year of stealing three computer monitors from an office building. Though the prosecutors sought prison time, he received two years' probation. But Williams also lost his law license and position as justice of the peace -- a judge who handles mostly administrative duties.
According to investigators, the prosecutors had been concerned Williams might be a threat to them, going so far as to carry handguns after his conviction.
Sheriff David Byrnes told reporters Thursday 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 they found the storage unit. Authorities say a friend of Williams' told them about the unit.
"The discovery of the storage locker probably was the watershed event that put us on to this," Byrnes said.
Hasse was killed in January, shot by a masked gunman while on his way to his courthouse office. The McLellands were killed two months later, gunned down at their rural home.
Authorities allege Williams, 46, was the gunman in all of the slayings. They say his wife, who is also 46, was the getaway driver when her husband shot Hasse. They contend she was a passenger when her husband drove to the McLellands' home to carry out those killings early on the morning of March 30.
"Basically, this was a collaborative effort between Eric Williams and his wife," Byrnes said.
Eric Williams is being held on $23 million bail, and his wife is being held on $3 million bail. 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.
According to an arrest warrant, a friend of Williams' contacted authorities last week and told them the former justice of the peace earlier this year had asked him to rent a 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. Williams used a false name to purchase the Crown Victoria in February, the affidavit said.
They also found guns, 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.
Investigators also traced emails in which the author confessed to all three slayings and threatened more violence against county officials to a computer in Williams' home, the warrant says.
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.
During his theft trial, McLelland and Hasse portrayed Williams as a dishonest public official with a dangerous streak. The prosecutors presented evidence during closing arguments indicating 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 district attorney's office and later went into private practice with him, said he was stunned by the arrests.
"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.