Kaufman County prosecutor named interim DA in wake of murders

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by WFAA & KHOU.com staff

khou.com

Posted on March 31, 2013 at 7:06 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 1 at 2:43 PM

Kaufman County, Texas

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DALLAS -- In a news conference Monday morning, Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said it felt surreal when he received news from the sheriff Saturday night that District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were shot dead in their home.

"We're still in shock," he said. "I guess that's the best way to describe our feelings about this latest incident. I've searched all weekend to think of the right word to describe and I can't come up with a single word. 'Unbelievable, this really didn't happen,' but it did. This whole thing is shocking to all of us."

Wood said several county officials are under authority protection as the investigation is under way.

Speaking from Austin, Gov. Rick Perry said the process to replace McLelland had begun. Josh Havens, a spokesman for the governor, said the appointment would happen "as soon as possible." Assistant District Attorney Brandi Fernandez will serve as the county's top law enforcement official in the interim.

Fernandez prosecuted in the 86th state District Court and is expected to fill the role for 21 days until Perry's appointment.

"Our prayers are with the McLelland family, their friends and the people of Kaufman County as they try to make sense of this tragic situation," read a statement from Perry.

The governor also urged Texas residents to be extra cautious following the weekend killings, "whether they're public officials or otherwise."

"There is a clear concern to individuals who are in public life, particularly those who deal with some very mean and vicious individuals, whether they're white supremacy groups or the drug cartels that we have," Perry said.

The governor said the FBI and the Texas Rangers are both assisting the Kaufman County Sheriff's Department with the investigation. Judge Wood said several county officials are under protection and district attorney's offices in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties all confirmed that they've enacted extra security precautions but declined to discuss specifics.

"We're very much on alert," he said. "We obviously have some folks that are out to do harm to elected officials."

The fatal shootings took place two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was fatally shot outside the Kaufman County Courthouse.

The county is located about 30 miles east of Dallas, but officials in Houston are taking no chances. Over the weekend Harris County D.A. Mike Anderson accepted the sheriff's offer of extra security for him and his family.

Prosecutors across the state have been warned to be on guard while federal authorities try to figure out who killed the Kaufman County officials. What is troubling many is they have no idea if this is the work of a prison gang, a lone-wolf type, or a personal vendetta.

In a news conference right after the murder of Assistant D.A. Hasse on Jan. 31, McLelland said, “When you deal with bad people on a daily basis, you run the risk something bad can happen to you."

Since Hasse’s murder, there's been a lot of speculation about who killed him. One of the angles widely reported is that it might have been the work of a white supremacist prison gang in Texas.

But, in his own words, McLelland downplayed that. He told WFAA-TV in a recent e-mail that Hasse, "...had received no threats from any prison gang," "He sure wasn't scared of anyone he prosecuted," and "His dealings with Aryan Brotherhood cases we handled was strictly peripheral."

As part of the investigation, officials Sunday afternoon went door to door in McLelland’s neighborhood to see if any residents saw anything suspicious Saturday night.

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