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Commentary: DA killings likely aimed at creating mass panic

Security is extra high in Kaufman County, Texas, after a prosecutor and his wife were murdered this weekend. It's the second assassination in eight weeks targeting the Kaufman County District Attorney's office. Anna Werner reports on the latest the investigation. AP Photo

Assassinations put Texas county's DA office on edge
Kaufman County Assistant DA Mark Hasse and DA Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia have all been murdered recently
CBS

(CBS) - Two district attorneys in Kaufman County, Texas, have been murdered within two months of one another -- and their slayings, assuming that they are linked, may constitute acts of terror and retribution by an organized group such as the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found shot to death inside their home last Saturday night. Their murders occurred just two months after Mark Hasse, an Assistant DA who worked under McLelland, was gunned down outside the county courthouse.

Over the last century, only 14 prosecutors have been killed in the U.S., according to the National District Attorneys Association, which means that the murder of two prosecutors in one county in Texas within 60 days is unprecedented.

The motive(s) of the murders remain a mystery.

"There's always the revenge factor but the most likely [scenario] is it's an ongoing investigation or an ongoing prosecution that may have triggered this," said Buck Revell, a former special agent who ran the Dallas office of the FBI.

Authorities are currently looking into people who were involved with both prosecutors in trials, as well as people who thought they were wrongly convicted.

The FBI is aiding local investigators who are pursuing all leads and angles, including the possibility that the murders, if linked, were committed by county employees, members of organized crime or even white supremacists.

"The most likely [suspect] is organized [crime]," said Revell. "But it could be an individual [who is] hiring professional hit men."

Revell also said that the murders of Mark Hasse and the McLellands appear to have been carefully planned -- with surveillance likely done on both targets -- resulting in the execution-style killings of Kaufman County's two top prosecutors.

Other authorities believe that the murders may be the work of white supremacists, quite possibly the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a prison gang that has been active in the state since the 1980s. McLelland himself raised the possibility that Hasse was gunned down by a white supremacist gang prior to his own murder.

After Assistant DA Hasse was killed, McLelland began carrying a gun everywhere around town, even while walking his dog. McLelland was also given around-the-clock security immediately following the Hasse murder, but the patrol car assigned to protect him was pulled last month.

If these murders were committed by the same person or persons, as I suspect, then they can be considered acts of terror against society, as well as acts of retribution against specific individuals. That is, these murders were likely designed to make a political statement and create mass panic among the public.

The brazen execution of a high-ranking official by organized crime figures or drug traffickers is a familiar scene in countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Sicily where criminals can wield more power than the authorities they target. Such scenes are not at all commonplace in the U.S., however. Here, the terror caused by the public execution of our protectors is magnified by our lack of familiarity with such events.

By targeting the two leading upholders of justice in Kaufman County, the responsible group is targeting its entire citizenry. Stated differently, the perpetrators issued a public statement that no one is safe when they killed two prominent officials in separate, premeditated and well orchestrated acts of terror.

May the perpetrators, whether they are white supremacists or members of some other hateful and vile group, be apprehended by authorities with haste.

Dr. Scott Bonn is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University in Madison, N.J. He is currently writing a book titled "Monster Dearest: Our Macabre Fascination with Serial Killers." He is @DocBonn on Twitter. His website is www.docbonn.com

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