Judge puts off ruling on delay in Kaufman County prosecutor murder trial

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on February 21, 2014 at 7:29 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 21 at 8:36 PM

ROCKWALL -- A district judge delayed deciding Friday whether to put off the planned October trial of former justice of the peace Eric Williams who is accused of killing the Kaufman County district attorney, his wife, and a top assistant last year.

Attorneys for Williams, 46, were seeking to delay court proceedings, citing the massive amount of evidence collected in the case.

“We have not had the opportunity to fully evaluate, inventory, or even receive the avalanche [of]” evidence, said defense attorney Matthew Seymour.

The hearing was held in the Rockwall County Courthouse, where the case was moved last month by Dallas County District Judge Michael Snipes. He is presiding over the case after a Kaufman County judge refused himself.

Williams and his wife, Kim, both face a charge of capital murder. They have been accused in the Jan. 31, 2013, slaying of Kaufman County prosecutor Mark Hasse, 57. He was gunned down as he walked to the downtown Kaufman courthouse. District Attorney Mike McLelland, 63, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, were slain in their Forney home over the Easter weekend.

Authorities believe the couple began plotting the murders after McLelland and Hasse prosecuted Eric Williams in a theft and burglary case that resulted in his removal as a justice of the peace in 2012. Eric Williams also was stripped of his law license. A judge sentenced him to probation in that case.

During Friday’s hearing, special prosecutor Bill Wirskye acknowledged the massive amount of evidence collected in the case and that not all of it had not been turned over to Williams’ defense team.

“This is the largest case - in terms of discovery - anyone has seen, the sheer size and complexity,” he said. “We will be ready when the court tells us try this case.”

In making his ruling, Snipes said he’s presided over three other capital murder cases and that each of them went to trial expeditiously. He also noted that the trial for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect has been scheduled for later this year.

“It seems to me given the complexity of that case, which involves numerous potential victims in the case but also involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as both Russian intelligence and our intelligence, and I can’t image a case any more complex than that,” he said.

The judge encouraged defense and prosecutors to think outside of the box about how the case could be moved along. He even suggested that lawyers for both sides consider asking law students to volunteer to help.

Snipes told the attorneys that he intends to continue with the March 28 date, which is when he will begin bringing in hundreds of people to interview them about their ability to serve on the Williams jury.

He said he would decide at a later date whether he would proceed with the other scheduled dates, including the October trial date.

“Both sides getting a fair trial is my paramount concern, but there are other concerns as well, such as the defendant’s right to a speedy trial, the public’s right to closure of this case and finality, and I will respect those principles as well,” Snipes said.

Defense attorneys asked the judge to order that prosecutors to turn over ballistics evidence. Wirskye asked the judge to give prosecutors more time.

“This is very much an ongoing investigation and we believe we need to retain that evidence for the time being to complete our investigation,” Wirskye said.

It was just earlier this week that investigators dispatched a dive team to search the waters of Lake Tawakoni to look for evidence in the case.

The judge ultimately decided to give prosecutors until April 21 to turn over ballistics evidence.

Defense attorneys also wanted to have biological evidence tested by an independent lab rather than state’s Garland lab. Seymour argued that the state’s crime lab personnel could not be impartial and neutral.

“Death is different and it requires a greater degree of neutrality,” Seymour said.

The judge disagreed and ordered that the state lab do the testing.

During his appearance in court Friday, what was most striking was Williams’ appearance. He has clearly lost a lot of weight. He was shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit.

His attorneys clearly weren’t happy about it.

“This court has previously ordered that Mr. Williams appear in civilian clothing and that he not be visibly shackled and those orders were violated today,” Seymour said. “If Mr. Williams is to truly carry the presumption of innocence, those orders must be abided by.”

The judge agreed and ordered that Williams not be shackled or dressed in jail attire for future court proceedings.

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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