He didn't do it. That's what Eric Williams' defense boiled down to. Despite the storage locker filled with weapons and survival gear, the getaway car bought using an assumed name, the emailed confession that came from his house and the bullet found in his possession that came from the same gun used in his alleged crimes, he didn't do it.
Williams convicted by a jury Thursday for the murder of Cynthia McClellend, wife of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McClellend. The couple was shot to death in March 2013, two months after Mark Hasse, one of McClellend's top lieutenants was gunned down in the street near the Kaufman County Courthouse. Williams is suspected to have committed all three murders because he was angry about losing a justice of the peace post after being convicted of stealing county computer equipment. Thursday, after deliberating for less than two hours, a Rockwall County jury found Williams guilty.
During the trial, which began Monday, witnesses described the meticulous way Williams' plotted and carried out the crimes. He stockpiled weapons and survival gear, they said, and asked how to get rid of the identifying parts of his assault rifles. He had a friend rent a storage locker for him to keep his gear in and bought the 2004 Crown Victoria seen on video driving away from the McClellends house the night of the murders under an assumed name.
After the McClellend murders were committed, Williams used anonymous browsing software to send an email to Crime Stoppers admitting to the crimes, said Jeff Rich, a Plano police officer assigned to the case's FBI task force. Using TOR, a protocol the reroutes Internet traffic multiple times to obscure where the traffic came from, Williams emailed asking for the resignation of Kaufman County district court judge.
"Your act of good faith will result in no other acts this week," he wrote. "My superiors will see this as the first step in ending our actions."
Despite the mounting evidence, Williams' defense team played passive defense. It declined to make an opening statement and didn't do much in the way of cross examination. When the state rested, it passed on calling any witnesses of its own. The state hadn't proved its case, defense attorney Matthew Seymour said in his closing argument. It couldn't definitively prove Williams was in the McClellends' house and those emails could've been sent by Williams' ex-wife Kim, his alleged conspirator.
Longtime Dallas criminal defense attorney Barry Sorrels says the defense was likely saving itself for the punishment phase of the trial, scheduled to start Monday.
"I think that the evidence the state had to prove the guilt of Eric Williams can only be considered overwhelming," he said. "To unnecessarily challenge facts like that withers away at your credibility."
Sorrels says that when one's goal is to keep his or her client alive one doesn't want to say things in front of the jury that don't make sense.
The defense team's questioning of Kim Williams actions, according to Sorrels, likely foreshadows the strategy they will use next week. Sorrels expects that she will testify and the defense may have been trying to strike a preemptive blow against her credibility.