The Killings in Kaufman

Two public officials dead and a third behind bars: Politics turn bloody in a small town.

There'd been talk of setting up a video conferencing system so Williams and his fellow JPs could conduct hearings without driving from far-flung corners of the 800-square-mile county to the jail in Kaufman. But it was never more than talk.

That might or might not explain what Williams was doing inside the sub-courthouse on a Sunday in May 2011 when the building was empty. Surveillance cameras captured him wandering through its halls, looking out of the front windows, peering into various offices and rifling through them. Within minutes, he was carrying three Dell computer monitors out of the county IT department and into his truck.

"He probably thought, 'I'll get the parts for this magistration system myself.'" Parks said.

But not everyone saw it that way. York, the IT director, looked at the footage and saw theft. He turned the tapes over to the sheriff. Within a week Williams' friend Ernie Zepeda, a sheriff's investigator, showed up at his office with warrants.

"... He said, 'Well, let me see the warrants,'" Zepeda testified. "I said, 'Judge, you don't understand. These warrants are for your arrest.'"

Williams looked stunned. He asked Zepeda if he was joking.

"... I said, 'Judge, I wouldn't joke about this. These are actual warrants issued by Judge Chitty for me to search your office, your vehicle and also for your arrest for burglary of a building.'"

Williams insisted there was a simple explanation for all of it.

"Right now, we're gonna take you to the sheriff's office, and we can talk about that there," Zepeda replied.

One monitor was right there on Williams' desk, one was in the closet, and the last was in the back seat of his pickup. Williams was cuffed, taken to the jail, seated in a small, windowless room, interviewed and processed — a sequence he knew well, only this time, he was on the other side of it. His arrest was front-page news in Kaufman. The legal career, the elected position he'd held for less than five months, the good name he'd made for himself, the health insurance he needed for his wife — all was gone, everything, for what he said was a misunderstanding over three computer monitors. They were worth less than $500.


Mike McLelland believed he had a mandate. The people of Kaufman County voted for him because he vowed to return a sense of moral rectitude to the office of the district attorney. He took a long road to get here. He lost to a hotshot attorney from Dallas named Rick Harrison in 2006. McLelland campaigned hard. He must have driven across every square mile of the county, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car with wife Cynthia, knocking on doors, shaking hands. If you didn't get a call from him, odds were you got one from his mother.

But his opponent had the endorsements: the sheriff, the district clerk, the defense bar. The race was close, but Harrison won by the slimmest of margins. As McLelland drove through the county, retrieving his campaign signs, it was like he was picking up the broken pieces of a dream.

He was back in 2010, more determined than ever. "He worked the hardest of any candidate I've ever seen," said a friend, Randy Lockhead. The race got ugly. McLelland, Harrison said, was completely unqualified for the job. He hadn't tried a case in years. McLelland sent out mailers with Harrison's mugshot from his second drunken-driving arrest. How could a man uphold laws he violated? McLelland asked.

This time, Kaufman County heard his message, and McLelland won 58 percent of the vote. Mere months after taking office, he could not simply let Eric Williams off with a warning. "This is the sort of thing the people elected me for in the first place," he told the Terrell Tribune roughly two weeks after Williams was indicted. "They were tired of wrongdoing being done in county government and nothing being done about it."

Those weren't empty platitudes. McLelland lived by a code. He was a God-fearing man who attended First United Methodist in Terrell. The first Sunday of each month, he taught Bible study, where he usually shared a Diet Coke with Cynthia. They sang in the choir together, and the preacher recalled watching McLelland pluck the sermon from his Bible, appraise it and loudly announce, "Get ready, it's gonna be a long one today." Then he'd file out with the rest of the choir into the chapel, with its creaking wooden pews and the stained-glass windows that softened the midmorning sun. And while the preacher delivered his sermon, an oscillating fan beneath the piano would billow their bright blue robes. When the McLellands stopped singing in the choir, they usually sat with the rest of their Sunday school class on a pew in the back corner.

The laws of men and God were clear to him, and they shaped the way he viewed the world.

"The right thing is gonna be done," said his son J.R. McLelland. "There's right and wrong, and there's the law. No ifs, ands or buts about it, no bullshit."

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16 comments
sirak63
sirak63

I see a movie in the works.   When the Governor selected selected the new DA I knew it wasn't the Aryan Brotherhood. I am not sure why they didn't ask for a change of venue in the original theft case, as  Williams had argued cases in Judge Chitty's court.  The next question remains where will it go from here? Mid May is supposed to be the theft appeal case- but Williams's lawyer has resigned.  There is enough for criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt  coupled with the confession. I hope they find a suitable venue for the trial as it would be the only thing that would hold back a true conviction.

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

a whose dick is bigger contest gone horribly awry...and the citizens of Kaufman, like myself, werent scared at all.  I did think it was funny that the prayer circles disappeared about the same time the TV news cameras did.

sophee
sophee

I am so relieved that Kaufman County located their three monitors. I hope it was all worth it.

ibivi56
ibivi56

It is quite unbelievable that one man destroyed another man over petty theft.  A terrible human tragedy.   

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@sirak63 The original case was bogus.  The computers he was seen on video "stealing" were simply moved to his office - where they were found, being used in an official capacity.

They prosecuted him because he campaigned against them in an earlier election.  The shootings were retaliation for that.

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

@sophee ---- a justice system that is about as unjust as it gets. 

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@sophee I see a lot of smug and dumb comments on DO articles.  Congratulations, yours takes the prize.  I hope it was all worth it - sheesh!

Nose2Much
Nose2Much

@ibivi56 And can you believe that one man killed three people over his own wrong-doing?  Does it really make it all right to murder because Williams felt his crime wasn't that big of a deal?

retrogal
retrogal

Well, look ,everyone is entitled to their opinion especially since the public was so egregiously misled by the media initially.

ibivi56
ibivi56

@Nose2Much @ibivi56 The accused murderer was utterly destroyed by his prosecution and it appears to have unhinged him.  Was there no other way to resolve the issue of things being removed from the offices? 

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@retrogal I'm not saying sophee can't have an opinion.  I would hope everyone has an opinion.  I was just pointing how how utterly smug and dumb the opinion is.  

Yours, not so much.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

You are correct. The way that was handled was way over the top vindictiveness. Small town politics. Give it a few months, someone will talk.

And think of it this way, if such shenanigans like 3 monitors missing had happened in Dallas county, what would have happened? Nada. In fact it took years to put together a case on crooked JPs here.

Lady Justice is not blind, she at least can read zip codes.

retrogal
retrogal

Yes I understand your impatience but I don't really have a firm opinion about this huge mess.Obviously some of the "facts" have been mere media speculation playing on the public's fears for heightened sensationalistic effect. (which is unfortunate).

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@retrogal You don't honestly want answers to each of the 8 questions you just presented, do you?  Really?  Why?  When? Written? Succinct? Honest? All at once?


See what I did there?

retrogal
retrogal

The coverage of this matter has really been toxic with hyperbole.  At first we were given a  misleading fictional (delusional?) media account of lone small town prosecutors bravely taking a stand against right wing supremicist Aryan brotherhood mobsters and prison gang killers, ...or was it Mexican Drug Cartels?  This  unnecessarily over blown story line  was in part re- enforced by the  now deceased DA himself.  Who was seeking the limelight here?  Why? Egos? What? The deceased DA was a psychologist and was not aware of the deleterious effects of personal destruction?  Was he really elected to"protect the public from this sort of corruption"?  Such as a JP who had no prior adverse record and who was not a political supporter "taking" unused monitors from a county ware house to his own county office?  Oh yes, one was in his truck....This matter could have been resolved in another way, I agree,especially since there is the taint of political "pay-back" which runs through the real truthful version of events preceeding the murders.  Texas small town "justice" is an oxymoron.

 
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