TOPICS > Politics

Investigation of Texas Murders Considers White Supremacist Gang Involvement

April 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Law enforcement officials in Kaufman County, Texas, are investigating whether a white supremacist prison gang can be linked to the recent murders of assistant district attorney Mark Hasse and district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia. Judy Woodruff interviews Tanya Eiserer of The Dallas Morning News.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We update the story of Texas officials shot to death recently, as law enforcement investigates possible ties between the murders and a white supremacy group.

Mourners fill the First Baptist Church of Sunnyvale, outside Dallas, Texas this afternoon to remember Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia. The couple was found shot to death inside their home over the weekend. Their murders came two months after the county’s assistant district attorney, Mark Hasse, was shot and killed.

Before today’s memorial service, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he had doubled the reward to $200,000 dollars for information leading to arrests in both cases.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: We cannot react with fear. We got to react with resolve. And our local, state and federal authorities are pursuing every lead, exhausting every line of inquiry in a relentless pursuit of those who are responsible for these crimes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No suspects have been identified, but some attention has turned to a state prison gang, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. On Tuesday, the assistant U.S. attorney in Houston who was to head the prosecution in a 2012 case involving 34 members of the white supremacist group stepped aside from that role. He cited security concerns, according to an attorney for one of the defendants.

RICHARD ELY, Defense Attorney: I understand why someone would want to step back. And it makes sense to me, especially people that have families.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The indictment, tied to federal racketeering charges, was announced last November. State officials later issued a warning that the group was — quote — “involved in issuing orders” to inflict mass casualties or death to law enforcement tied to the case.

McLelland was part of a multiagency task force involved in the investigation. And in Colorado, police continue the search for those tied to the murder of the state’s prisons chief, Tom Clements, who was gunned down last month. Ex-convict Evan Ebel was one of the suspects. He was killed two days after Clements’ death during a shoot-out with police in Texas. Colorado authorities are now looking for two other men, both associated with the white supremacist prison gang the 211 Crew.

For the latest on what is unfolding in Texas, we turn to Tanya Eiserer. She’s a reporter with The Dallas Morning News.

Tanya Eiserer, welcome to the program.

Tell us what the latest is on these cases.  

TANYA EISERER, The Dallas Morning News: Well, as you can imagine, they’re still — authorities are still working around the clock on this investigation. They have not identified a suspect. In fact, they have no solid leads about any particular individual or individuals, which is, of course, of great concern given the nature of these assassinations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say no solid leads, literally no evidence at all?

TANYA EISERER: Well, I know people involved in this investigation and they’re running down hundreds of leads. There are many leads coming in regarding the Aryan Brotherhood. There are many leads coming in regarding possible cartel involvement, as well as other people that were prosecuted by that office.

But they don’t have any evidence that says this is the person or this is the — the people that might have done this. So it’s — from what I’m gathering from talking to people just last night, one official said to me, it’s a whodunit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the only connection then at this point to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, with this prison gang, is this threat that came out a few months ago?

TANYA EISERER: Well, it’s a little more than that.

Yes, there was the threat that came out in December. There have been — there has been some leads that investigators have been following about the Kaufman County office. They had prosecuted a fairly major case last year involving a high-ranking Aryan Brotherhood member. And so there have been some tips that perhaps it’s linked to that case, but to say that they have developed solid evidence of it, I can’t say that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us a little bit more, Tanya Eiserer, about the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

TANYA EISERER: Well, they’re obviously a very violent group. They were formed in Texas prisons in the ’80s.

They modeled themselves after a California group. They are primarily involved in meth dealing, and they are known for being particularly brutal in the way they do their business.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And active, obviously, inside the prisons, but what’s the evidence or what’s their record outside prison?

TANYA EISERER: Well, in the indictments that were handed down in Houston, those involved a number of murders outside of prison, and, in fact, very vicious murders.

And they also — within those indictments, there were a number of threats that involved law enforcement and threats to kill law enforcement. And in that — in the Kaufman County case, those involved a pretty brutal kidnaping where one — this captain wanted to kill this guy because he wanted out of the group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us, do you know any more about this Houston assistant U.S. attorney that’s recused himself or said he is not going to part of this anymore?

TANYA EISERER: Yes.

He basically sent an e-mail to all of the attorneys that were involved in that investigation — in that case Tuesday morning telling them that he had decided to remove himself from the case, and he cited security concerns.

I spoke to a number of the attorneys in that case and they said that he didn’t — he wasn’t specific about what those concerns were.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s not known whether there’s any connection to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas or any other particular group?

TANYA EISERER: Well, he’s obviously involved in the prosecution of the Aryan Brotherhood, so obviously he must have some concern.

Now, the question is, did he receive a specific threat? We don’t know. But what some law enforcement officials have told me is they’re really concerned that when you start having prosecutors drop off cases, that sends a really bad message to the criminals out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any sense that there may be more law enforcement officials who take themselves out of this investigation, out of this process?

TANYA EISERER: We haven’t heard any reports of that. I have had a number of people who — who simply don’t want their names in the paper. People in the past that would have been fine with having their names used, there’s a lot of concern.

People don’t know — obviously, you had the McLellands killed and Mark Hasse killed, but we don’t know, are there are other targets out there?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you mentioned the cartel. I assume you meant Mexican drug cartel or criminal cartel earlier.

TANYA EISERER: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us what’s known about any involvement they may have in this.

TANYA EISERER: Well, there have been some tips related to the Mexican cartels and perhaps that some of the cases that Kaufman County had prosecuted might have some — might have some cartel involvement.

Kaufman County was known to be a district attorney’s office that was very tough. I mean, they didn’t cut sweet deals. They pretty much went to the mat. So there were a lot of angry criminals out there who could have had reason to want to harm someone in the DA’s office.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, tell us a little bit about the additional security that is being provided law enforcement officials in the wake of all this in Texas.

TANYA EISERER: Yes. They have around-the-clock security on many — on the members of the DA’s office, and not just them, the judges in Kaufman County, the other elected officials out there.

And you have to question and you have to wonder how long can it continue? Because, obviously, around-the-clock security is very expensive. But what I’m hearing from the people involved in this investigation is that it is going to have to continue for some period of time because we don’t know who is doing this and why. And are there other targets?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tanya Eiserer with The Dallas Morning News, we thank you.

TANYA EISERER: Thank you.