Reports are circulating the killings are gang related or linked to white supremacist groups, although no arrests have been made.
Two weeks ago District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were shot dead days after McLelland’s assistant district attorney, Mark Hasse, both from Kaufman County, Texas, was allegedly murdered.
Chair of department of criminal justice at the California State University, San Bernardino Larry Gaines, who did his doctoral work at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, said it is important for law enforcement to act swiftly. Otherwise the appearance of these apparent scare tactics could be successful.
“I think it’s very important for the police in Texas to make arrests as quickly as possible and make sure they are properly prosecuted,” he said. “We can’t set this precedent. If we do, its likely to lead to more attacks of judges and prosecutors.”
The deaths sent shockwaves through the law enforcement community, as reports of beefed up security and heightened vigilance for other prosecutors have surfaced.
Shortly after the three murders, a federal prosecutor in Texas withdrew himself from a racketeering case against the Aryan Brotherhood.
Gaines said depending on location, urban or rural, the degree that organized crime pervades law enforcement officials and prosecutors can vary. He said from time to time prosecutors are targeted by organized crime, but considering the size of the Texas county, “this is a very unique case.”
Prison gangs, the mafia and outlaw motorcycle gangs are usually responsible for things like this, he said. He cited the recent killing of the director of the Colorado prison system and a sheriff in West Virginia as examples of alleged fear mongering.
With so much still uncertain in Texas - namely who is responsible, who will ultimately prosecute the cases when they come to court, and if there will be any more targeted killings - Gaines said one can only wonder what the impact will be.
A representative from the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office said they are not taking press calls and would not confirm who will be replacing McLelland. Reports cited Brandi Fernandez will serve in the interim.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York issued a statement after Hasse was killed describing the courage and risk associated with prosecuting dangerous criminals.
“Prosecutors across the country work every day to seek justice for victims and keep our communities safe. In doing so, these dedicated public servants know that they may be putting their own lives in danger, but continue to do their jobs without reservation. The cold blooded murder of ADA Hasse is an attack on our nation’s criminal justice system, and we send our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues.”
Vance made similar comments after word of McLelland’s death.
A representative from the Texas Attorney General’s Office said there are no plans for the AG to step outside the role a civil prosecutor at this time, as the AG can in some instances prosecute criminal matters.
Calls to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas were unreturned as of press time.
Dan Sabbatino is an award winning journalist whose accolades include a New York Press Association award for a series of articles he wrote dealing with a small upstate town’s battle over a the implications of letting a “big-box” retailer locate within its borders. He has worked as a reporter and editor since 2007 primarily covering state and local politics for a number of Capital Region publications including The Legislative Gazette, where he currently serves as assistant editor.