Two Names Added to Monument Memorializing Slain Prosecutors
by Matt Clarke
Two more names will be added to the National Prosecutor Memorial in Columbia, South Carolina to mark the deaths of two Texas prosecutors, murdered within months of each other by a former Justice of the Peace who sought vengeance for his prosecution on theft charges. The additions bring the number of slain prosecutors to just 14 within the past 100 years.
Officials with the National District Attorneys Association, which maintains the memorial, said at least eight of the prosecutors were targeted in connection with their official duties, while several were killed in apparently random acts of violence or incidents unrelated to their jobs.
The low number is in stark contrast to the number of police officers killed in the line of duty, which now stands at more than 20,000 names on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Murders of state and local prosecutors are “beyond rare” according to Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “They’re not out on the street at 2 a.m. confronting people who are intoxicated, armed and violent,” he said. “So when a prosecutor is killed, they are almost always premeditated attacks, which kind of raises the level of egregiousness.”
As a result, the 2013 shootings of two Texas prosecutors prompted the association to issue a statement reminding “all prosecutors to continue to be vigilant with respect to their personal safety and take appropriate steps should they receive any threats or cause for concern.”
On January 31, 2013, Mark Hasse, an assistant district attorney in Kaufman County, Texas, was ambushed by a gunman near the county courthouse. He was the first prosecutor to be murdered since Adams County, Colorado prosecutor Sean May, who was shot outside his home in 2008.
Hasse’s boss, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, opined that Hasse had been killed by a white supremacist gang suspected of manufacturing methamphetamine, but just a few months later McLelland, 63, and his wife Cynthia, 65, were also found dead, gunned down in their home in March 2013. Police said they recovered 20 spent shell casings from the murder scene.
Former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams, 47, was eventually convicted of the three murders and sentenced to death on December 17, 2014. The jury deliberated less than four hours before returning the sentence after previously finding Williams guilty of capital homicide.
Prosecutors alleged that Williams meticulously plotted the killings as revenge because Hasse and McLelland had prosecuted him for stealing furniture and computer monitors from his courthouse office. The conviction cost Williams his job and law license.
Williams’ estranged wife and accomplice, Kim Williams, provided key testimony during the trial, calmly describing how the couple had planned the murders and carried them out, and how they celebrated afterwards with a steak dinner. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 years in prison for her role in the killings.
Williams has since appealed his death sentence, arguing that the trial judge erred in not delaying the proceedings until the results of his brain tests could be prepared and submitted as evidence.
“Eric Williams was denied the opportunity to present some importance evidence to the jury,” said defense attorney John Wright during a February 26, 2015 hearing. “We believe that had we been allowed, we would have been able to develop a more persuasive mitigation case based on mental health.”
The list of names on the National Prosecutor Memorial does not include any federal prosecutors. Dennis Boyd, director of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said the organization was unaware of any federal prosecutor killed in an attack linked to their work – with the possible exception of Thomas C. Wales, who was shot to death in his Seattle, Washington home in 2001. Wales’ murder remains unsolved. The 2003 death of Baltimore Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna, whose body was found in a creek with 36 stab wounds, was not attributed to his duties as a prosecutor; while Luna’s death was ruled a homicide, federal investigators have considered the possibility that he killed himself.
There is, of course, no monument dedicated to innocent defendants who died in prison after being wrongfully convicted by prosecutors – such as Timothy Brian Cole in Texas. [See: PLN, July 2009, p.12].
Sources: www.usnews.nbcnews.com, www.cnn.com, www.kuhf.org, www.wfaa.com, www.kvue.com, Associated Press, www.thedailybeast.com, Huffington Post
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