Kaufman County DA, wife slain; link to Hasse murder probed



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Posted on March 30, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 9:16 AM

Kaufman DA murdered

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FORNEY — Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found shot dead inside their home near Forney on Saturday night, a chilling crime that put law enforcement agencies across Texas on high alert and shook prosecutors, defense attorneys and others in legal circles around North Texas.

Late Saturday night, sources said a .223-caliber rifle was used in the murders, with approximately 14 rounds being fired.

The McLellands might have been murdered up to 24 hours before their bodies were discovered at 6 p.m. Saturday, sources said. A police officer friend came to the house to check on them and discovered the front door opened — then found their bodies inside.

The district attorney's body was found in a hallway where he appeared to have tried to get away, sources said. McLelland's wife, Cynthia, was found dead in a front room in their house.

Their bodies were not removed from the house until 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

The FBI and the Texas Rangers are taking the lead role in the probe, but Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said Sunday afternoon that "all official information regarding this investigation will come through the sheriff's office."

After an initial investigation, nothing appeared to be missing from the home, sources added.

Investigators now believe the double murder of the DA and his wife is likely related to the Mark Hasse murder investigation.

Almost two months ago, Hasse, McLelland's top deputy, was gunned down in broad daylight just a few steps from the county courthouse. He was murdered on January 31 as he walked to his office from a parking lot.

A task force of multiple local, state and federal agencies have investigated dozens of leads, but have so far been unable to develop any suspects in the Hasse murder.

On Sunday, Sheriff Byrnes said his department has "nothing indicating" a connection between the two high-profile cases.

McLelland vowed to hunt down Hasse's killer, and was confident that person would be brought to justice.

"He knows and I know there will be a reckoning," the D.A. said at Hasse's memorial service. "Too many people are focusing on that. That's not going to be a problem."

Kaufman County Sheriff's Lt. Justin Lewis said he couldn't discuss the investigation in detail, including how the couple died and whether authorities believe their deaths are linked to Hasse's fatal shooting on January 31.

Kaufman County deputies, the FBI, Texas Rangers, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Forney police are all involved in the investigation.

"It is very unusual to see public officials killed in this manner," said ABC News senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas on "Good Morning America." "If prosecutors are being executed, this is a nightmare scenario; so that's why you see the ATF and FBI actively assisting."

Late Saturday night, news media was asked to leave their positions near the house as law enforcement agencies widened the crime scene.

A neighbor told News 8 police were outside the house when she returned home around 9 p.m. Saturday. The neighbor said McLelland and his wife were friendly people.

"I'm very very scared," said Vanessa Hernandez. "It's really hard to imagine something like this happening in the neighborhood."

"Residents shouldn't live in fear," said Forney Mayor Darren Rozell. "This was targeted ... it appears this was not a random act."

One district attorney in a neighboring county has already asked for increased security, and the McLelland case could lead to additional measures being taken at courthouses throughout the region.

"This appears to be a bonafide mystery... and a potentially chilling one at that," Thomas said.

Sheriff Byrnes said anyone with information for investigators can contact a special tip line at 877-847-7522 or visit the Kaufman County Crime Stoppers website.

According to the district attorney's official biography, the McLellands have five children, one of whom is a Dallas police officer.

The number of attacks on prosecutors, judges and senior law enforcement officers in the U.S. has spiked in the past three years, according to Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County, Calif., District Attorney's Office who tracks such cases.

But they're still rare. McLelland is the 13th prosecutor in the U.S. that the National Association of District Attorneys has recorded killed since the organization began keeping track in the 1960s.

It was unclear Sunday who will serve as the district attorney for Kaufman County. The county judge said he will ask the governor to appoint a new district attorney as soon as possible.

The county courthouse will be open Monday, but the district attorney's office will be closed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor's note: Sources said Saturday night the door of the McLellands residence had been kicked in, but that is no longer believed to be the case.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com, cwade@wfaa.com, jpanicker@wfaa.com and mmoore@wfaa.com