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Texas DA's killing puts other prosecutors on alert

Caption
Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes (center) walks away after a news conference in Kaufman, Texas, on Sunday March 31, 2013. On Saturday, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were murdered in their home. (AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)

KAUFMAN, Texas (AP) — Deputies escorted some Kaufman County employees into the courthouse Monday, two days after the district attorney and his wife were found shot to death in their home in an attack that stirred fears that other public employees could be targeted by assassins.

Law enforcement officers were seen patrolling one side of the courthouse, one holding a semi-automatic weapon, while others walked around inside.

Authorities have said little about the investigation into the deaths of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, whose bodies were found Saturday.

The slayings raised concerns about the safety of public employees across the state, coming just two months after Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was killed in a parking lot near the courthouse.

Deputies were called to the McLelland home by relatives and friends who had been unable to reach the pair, according to a search warrant affidavit.

When they arrived, investigators found the two had been shot multiple times. Cartridge casings were scattered near their bodies, the affidavit said.

Authorities have not discussed a motive.

"I don't want to walk around in fear every day ... but on the other hand, two months ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation," County Judge Bruce Wood, the county's top administrator, said Monday at a news conference.

The killings also came less than two weeks after Colorado's prison chief was shot to death at his front door, apparently by an ex-convict.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Texas were on high alert, and steps were being taken to better protect other DAs and their staffs.

In Harris County, which includes Houston, District Attorney Mike Anderson said he accepted the sheriff's offer of 24-hour security for him and his family. Anderson said he also would take precautions at his office, the largest of its kind in Texas, with more than 270 prosecutors.

"I think district attorneys across Texas are still in a state of shock," Anderson said Sunday.

McLelland, 63, was the 13th prosecutor killed in the U.S. since the National Association of District Attorneys began keeping count in the 1960s.

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes would not give details Sunday of how the killings unfolded and said there was nothing to indicate for certain whether the DA's slaying was connected to Hasse's.

El Paso County, Colo., sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Joe Roybal said investigators had so far found no evidence connecting the Texas killings to the Colorado case, but added: "We're examining all possibilities."

Colorado's corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman.

In an Associated Press interview shortly after the Colorado slaying, McLelland himself raised the possibility that Hasse was gunned down by a white supremacist gang.

McLelland, elected in 2010, said his office had prosecuted several cases against such gangs, particularly one known as the Aryan Brotherhood. The groups have a strong presence around Kaufman County, a mostly rural area dotted with subdivisions, with a population of about 104,000.

No arrests have been made in Hasse's Jan. 31 slaying. After that attack, McLelland said, he carried a gun everywhere around town, even when walking his dog. He figured assassins were more likely to try to attack him outside. He said he had warned all his employees to be constantly on the alert.

"The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it," he said of dealing with the danger, "because they're going to need it more in the future."

The number of attacks on prosecutors, judges and senior law enforcement officers in the U.S. has spiked in the past three years, according to Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County, Calif., district attorney's office who tracks such cases.

For about a month after Hasse's slaying, sheriff's deputies were parked in the district attorney's driveway, said Sam Rosander, a McLelland neighbor.

The FBI and the Texas Rangers joined the investigation into the McLellands' deaths.

McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, had two daughters and three sons. One son is a police officer in Dallas.

___

Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk in Houston, Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth and P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.

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