NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE
KAUFMAN — State police divers have recovered a weapon from Lake Tawakoni that forensic testing shows was used to assassinate Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse last year – a find expected be a linchpin in the prosecution of former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams.
The gun, as well as a second gun and black mask, were recovered March 5 as divers with the Texas Department of Public Safety searched along the Highway 276 “two mile bridge” area in Hunt County, according to an search warrant affidavit obtained by News 8. The lake is located about 40 miles northeast of Kaufman.
That second gun has been directly linked through purchase records to Williams’ wife, Kim, the records state.
“It just shows whenever something like this occurs, all the resources that are necessary are going to be used to find what evidence is available,” said Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood.
DPS divers periodically searched around the lake in grids for months as investigators continued to build their case against Williams.
“They had to literally just lay on the mud and - with their hands - just feel through the mud, a square foot at a time,” said former Kaufman County investigator Bruce Bryant.
Eric and Kim Williams have been accused in the slaying of Hasse, 57 on Jan. 31, 2013. He was gunned down by a masked man 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.
Bruce Bryant was the chief investigator for McLelland when he was killed.
”Mike was sure it was Eric Williams the day Mark was killed," Bryant said. "He told us that afternoon.”
He said McLelland would be happy to hear the news the guns found were linked to Eric and Kim Williams.
”I am sure he would say, 'Y'know, I told you so,'” Bryant said.
Special Prosecutors Bill Wirskye and Toby Shook are seeking the death penalty for Williams. They haven't yet said whether they will seek the death penalty against Kim Williams.
According to the warrant authored by Kaufman County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Woodall, the Hasse murder weapon is a Ruger .357 capable of firing .38-caliber special rounds, the warrant states. Hasse was killed by .38-caliber rounds.
“Affiant has learned that recent forensic testing of this Ruger pistol has revealed that this pistol was the same pistol from which that bullets that killed Mark Hasse were fired,” the affidavit states.
Investigators have since determined with the help of ATF that the second gun was purchased by Kim Williams many years ago, the warrant states.
Woodall obtained the search warrant so that authorities could search a padlocked black tote bag to determine if there was any evidence connected to the killings. Investigators recovered the bag on March 26 from an office where Eric Williams had previously rented space, the warrant states. The bag is covered with bullet hole stickers and "no smoking" stickers.
Last year, during a search of a Seagoville storage unit, authorities found dozen of weapons, ammunition and a Crown Victor sedan believed to have been used in the McLelland slayings. Police found a title to the Crown Victoria during a search last year of Williams’ home, according to court documents.
Williams had asked a friend to secretly rent the storage unit, authorities say.
Inside the storage unit, authorities found a live .223 round that matched spent shell cases found at the McLelland crime scene. Woodall also wrote in the warrant that investigators have not yet recovered the weapon used to kill the McLellands.
Woodall’s warrant also revealed for the first time that authorities found “two jars believed to be filled with homemade napalm” inside the unit. Court documents had previously revealed that authorities found a homemade incendiary device “capable of, and believed intended for, evidence destruction.”
Authorities believe the couple began plotting the murders after McLelland and Hasse prosecuted Williams in a theft and burglary case that resulted in his removal as a justice of the peace in 2012. Williams also was stripped of his law license. A judge sentenced him to probation in that case.
Attorneys for Williams have sought to delay court proceedings in the case, citing the massive amount of evidence collected in the case. The case has been moved to Rockwall County.
Dallas County District Judge Mike Snipes is presiding over the case after a Kaufman County judge recused himself.
Last Friday, the long process of selecting a jury in the capital murder case began when thousands of people were summoned to the Rockwall County courthouse to fill out questionnaires. Formal jury selection is slated to begin in May. The judge has said he wants to have a jury picked by August.
The trial has been scheduled to start in October.
“We are grateful for the work prosecutors, investigators, and law enforcement have done on this case,” said Leah Phillips, a friend of the McLellands.
Eric Williams is currently being held in the Kaufman County jail on $23 million bail.