Former Texas official arrested in probe of prosecutors’ slayings

Former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams is pictured in this booking photo courtesy of the Kaufman County Sheriff. REUTERS/Kaufman County Sheriff/Handout
Former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams is pictured in this booking photo courtesy of the Kaufman County Sheriff. REUTERS/Kaufman County Sheriff/Handout

A former justice of the peace in Kaufman County, Texas, whose home was searched as part of the probe into the killings of the local district attorney, his wife and a prosecutor, has been arrested on suspicion of threatening violence.

Eric L. Williams, 46, was arrested on charges of making a “terroristic” threat, which generally involves a threat to commit violence, according to the Kaufman County jail website. Kaufman County is just east of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

It was not immediately clear whether the alleged threat had any connection to the slayings, which along with the March slaying of the Colorado prisons chief raised concerns about public officials being targeted by criminal elements.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death on March 30 at their home near Forney, 22 miles from Dallas, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down execution-style. McLelland had publicly vowed to capture Hasse’s killer.

The pace of the investigation into those deaths appeared to quicken on Saturday after local media reported that FBI agents and Texas Rangers had searched several storage units in the town of Seagoville as part of the probe into the slayings. The Dallas Morning News reported that a car had been found in one of the units.

It was not immediately clear who the units belonged to. The New York Times quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying the search was “possibly very significant”. An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the developments.

Asked about the progress of the probe into the killings, Kaufman County Sheriff’s spokesman Lieutenant Justin Lewis told Reuters late on Saturday: “Nobody has been charged at this time.”

SEARCH WARRANT

Williams, who a jail official confirmed was being held on $3 million bail, has not been named as a suspect in the slayings. He lost his position as justice of the peace in Kaufman County after being convicted last year of theft, according to local media reports.

His attorney, David Sergi, said in a statement on Friday that his client “has cooperated with law enforcement and vigorously denies any and all allegations”, according to local news station KXAS-TV, an NBC affiliate.

Sergi did not return calls on Saturday.

Kyle Bradford, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers, said authorities served a search warrant at Williams’ home on Friday.

Richard Mohundro, who lives next door to Williams’ house in Kaufman County, said he watched from his porch as police poured into the neighborhood on Friday afternoon. “There were cops everywhere and I thought, ‘Oh my God’,” he said.

Officers were there until around midnight and took out bins filled with documents and computers, Mohundro said.

After the slayings of Hasse and the McLellands, investigators had tested Williams for gun residue and they examined his cell phone, but they did not name him as a suspect, according to the New York Times.

The theft conviction against Williams last year centered on his removal of computer monitors from a public building, according to a report on the trial from The Forney Post newspaper. Hasse prosecuted the case, according to the paper.

The arrest of Williams marked at least the third time investigators in the case have taken a person into custody over an alleged threat, and came as Texas authorities were seeking to double an existing $200,000 reward to find the killers.

The Texas Rangers arrested a man on April 4 accused of using Facebook to threaten violence against an assistant district attorney. Two days earlier, authorities arrested another man suspected of making a telephone threat against a county official on a tip line set up for the case.

(Additional reporting Marice Richter and Lisa Maria Garza in Texas and Chris Francescani in New York,; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Vicki Allen, Cynthia Johnston and Pravin Char)



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