|DA Killing Reignites Hunt for Links to Colo. Murder|
|By ALYSSA NEWCOMB (@AlyssaNewcomb) and DEAN SCHABNER||Mar 31, 2013, 9:50 AM|
The killing of a second Kaufman County, Texas, prosecutor in the past two months has prompted authorities in Colorado to renew their investigation into possible links between those murders and the execution-style slaying of Colorado's state prisons chief.
Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death in their Forney, Texas, home Saturday, Sheriff David Byrnes said today.
On the surface, the incident bore striking similarities to the the killing of Colorado Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements, who was killed in his home less than two weeks ago.
After Clements' murder, authorities in Colorado had made contact with Texas investigators to look for possible links between his murder and that of Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was gunned down outside of a courthouse in January.
Joe Roybal, a deputy with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Colorado, said investigators had laid off of the case for a while, but re-contacted their counterparts in Texas after they heard about McLelland's murder.
Evan Ebel, a Colorado man who was released from prison in January, was believed to be responsible for Clements' murder, according to authorities. Ebel died days after the murder from wounds sustained in a shootout with Texas police.
Roybal said investigators are interviewing associates of Ebel, both "[prison] gang members" and others on the outside in the case.
Despite the investigation, authorities have stopped short of linking any of the three incidents.
Byrnes would not definitively say today whether he believed the murder of McLelland and his wife was related to the Jan. 31 assassination of Hasse.
"We have nothing indicating that for sure," he said at a news conference this afternoon.
The assistant district attorney was gunned down execution-style outside the Kaufman County Courthouse by one or two unknown assailants as he walked from his car to the courthouse in Kaufman, southeast of Dallas.
McLelland had told The Associated Press that after Hasse's killing, he carried a gun with him wherever he went and took precautions when answering the door at his home.
"I'm ahead of everybody else because, basically, I'm a soldier," McLelland, a 23-year Army veteran, told the AP in an interview less than two weeks ago.
Byrnes declined to discuss what security measures were already in place and whether any new steps might be taken, but said people should not be afraid to go to the courthouse, where there would be "visible security."
"It's pretty obvious it's unnerving and its unnerving to the law enforcement community and the community at large, which is why we're striving to ensure the community we are providing public safety," he said.
The murders of the McLellands left the rural community on edge after the district attorney's home was turned into a crime scene on Saturday.
Byrnes said authorities received a call shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday involving "two deceased persons" and responded to the home.
Along with local agencies, the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Texas Rangers have joined the investigation, Byrnes said.
He declined to discuss the specifics of the crime scene, however sources told ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas that a police officer friend went to check on the couple Saturday night and found the front door of their home open. When he walked inside, the sources said, the officer discovered Cynthia McLelland dead in a front room of the house and Mike McLelland dead in a hallway, as though he had tried to escape the assailant.
Neighbors were left shaken by the acts of violence.
"We've lived here for years and we've never had anything like this happen before and for it to happen so close to home is very very scary," neighbor Vanessa Hernandez said.
The task force created to investigate Hasse's murder was also at McLellands' home, police said.
Hasse, 57, had been a longtime felony prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, according to WFAA-TV. He headed the organized crime unit in Dallas in the 1980s. He started work in Kaufman County three years ago.
McLelland had vowed to hunt down Hasse's killer.
"He knows and I know there will be a reckoning," McClelland said at Hasse's memorial service, WFAA reported. "Too many people are focusing on that. That's not going to be a problem."
ABC News' Carolyn McKinley contributed reporting.