Two county prosecutors and one of their wives had been killed. People worried that the murders were the work of a criminal gang or a loner bent on revenge – and wondered who, if anyone, might be next.
An arrest now brings the case back to one of their own: an elected official who'd been booted from office and allegedly held a grudge against those who helped convict him last year for stealing county property, causing him to lose his job and health benefits, authorities say.
Eric Williams, 46, Kaufman County's disgraced former justice of the peace, was targeted by his wife, Kim, also 46, who confessed the couple's role in the murders, according to a warrant for Kim Williams' arrest.
"Law enforcement in the State of Texas takes this all very seriously," Kirby Dendy, assistant director/chief in charge of the Texas Rangers, said at a press conference Thursday. “The murder of a public official … is an assault against all citizens in this state.”
She was charged Wednesday with capital murder for the shootings of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was killed Jan. 31 as he walked to work at the courthouse, and District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, whose bodies were found March 30 at their home.
Eric Williams earlier was arrested for making a "terroristic threat," reportedly by anonymous e-mail, after officers searched the couple's home April 12. He was charged Thursday with the murders as well and was being held on $23 million bond.
"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 ... and Mike and Cynthia McLelland," says the arrest affidavit, which added that during questioning, Kim Williams "gave details of both offenses which had not been made public."
LM Otero / AP
Reports from the trial say the prosecutors pushed for prison, but Eric Williams – who lost his elected office and remains suspended without pay pending an appeal – was given probation. Kim Williams testified at the time that both she and her husband suffer from medical ailments, and she is on disability.
"Mr. Hasse and Mr. McLelland both believe that Eric Williams blamed them for his removal from office," says the affidavit. "Both Mr. Hasse and Mr. McLelland regularly carried handguns after the Eric Williams jury trial because they believed Eric William to be a threat to their personal safety."
On April 13, investigators searched a storage unit linked to Eric Williams and found more than 20 weapons, plus a car that matched a description of one seen leaving the McLelland's neighborhood around the time of their murders.
That twist helped squash speculation the killings might have been linked to a white supremacist group, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, whose members were targeted earlier by indictments that involved the Kaufman County prosecutors.
Eric Williams's attorney, David Sergi, has withdrawn from the case. But prior to that he said in a statement on April 12 that his then-client "vigorously asserts his innocence and denies any involvement" in the killings, adding, "He wishes simply to get on with his life and hopes that the perpetrators are brought to justice."