Former Justice of the Peace Found Guilty in Killing of Former DA’s Wife

In this Dec. 2, 2014 file photo, Eric Williams makes his way into the courtroom before his trial at the Rockwall County Courthouse in Rockwall, Texas. (AP)
In this Dec. 2, 2014 file photo, Eric Williams makes his way into the courtroom before his trial at the Rockwall County Courthouse in Rockwall, Texas. (AP)

A North Texas jury convicted a former public official Thursday of capital murder in a revenge plot against a district attorney, his wife and a top assistant.

Eric Williams now faces a potential death sentence after he was convicted in the 2013 murder of Cynthia McLelland, the wife of slain Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland. Testimony in the trial involved the deaths of both McLellands, and Williams also is indicted in the death of assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse.

Prosecutors took just three days to present their case against Williams, whom they called a “ruthless killing machine” in closing arguments. His defense lawyers only made a closing argument and did not call witnesses.

“The case is so air tight, it sucked the oxygen, it sucked the energy out of any potential defense,” prosecutor Bill Wirskye said in closing arguments.

After the verdict, Williams’ brother-in-law, Zach Bellemare, said the defense team “was terrible.” Defense attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment outside of court.

The McLellands’ bodies were found inside their rural home east of Dallas in March 2013. The couple had already changed to go to bed when Williams charged into the home and opened fire. Prosecutors say Williams shot Cynthia McLelland in the head, and he then shot Mike McLelland and stood over his body, firing repeatedly.

Mike McLelland’s mother, Wyvonne McLelland, wept as the verdict was read.

Their deaths occurred two months after a masked gunman killed prosecutor Hasse outside a local courthouse building.

Williams was a former justice of the peace who lost his job and his law license after McLelland and Hasse successfully prosecuted him for stealing three computer monitors from a county government building. Williams was convicted in March 2012, about 10 months before Hasse was killed. “My life has taken a drastic turn,” Williams told a probation officer at the time.

“He lost his sitting as a justice of the peace, he lost his law license, everything he worked for. The law was his life,” Bellemare said, adding that he believed Williams was innocent.

The case was built on circumstantial evidence against Williams, and the weapon used to kill the McLellands has never been found.

“It’s a fantasy. It’s a guess. There’s no proof of it,” defense attorney Matthew Seymour said in closing arguments.

But prosecutors showed jurors evidence from a storage locker he had a friend rent in secret. Inside the locker was the suspected getaway vehicle, more than 30 guns and police tactical gear. A dive team that searched a local lake also found a gun believed to have been used to shoot Hasse and a mask Williams allegedly wore.

Williams’ estranged wife, Kim, has been indicted for capital murder, though her attorney has said she is cooperating with prosecutors. She did not testify in the trial. She’s accused of having driven the getaway vehicle after Hasse’s killing.

Prosecutors also found a password in Williams’ home to an account on the Crime Stoppers tips website used to send a partial confession. One message presented in court said, “Do we have your full attention now?”

Prosecutors decided to pursue the three murder charges individually, because if Williams was acquitted in the death of Cynthia McLelland, they then could try him in the slaying of Mike McLelland. Had prosecutors not won either case, they would bring Williams to trial in Hasse’s death.

The trial was held in neighboring Rockwall County due to the attention the case received in Kaufman County. The sentencing phase begins Monday.

SOURCE: EMILY SCHMALL
Associated Press

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