When Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse convinced a jury to convict a former Justice of the Peace on felony theft charges, Eric Lyle Williams said his life was effectively ruined over a "misunderstanding" and a "political grudge."
County information technology personnel came into the Kaufman sub-courthouse on a Monday in May 2011 and noticed three boxes with brand new Dell monitors were missing. They reviewed the surveillance footage from the weekend before and caught Williams hauling the boxes out of the IT office that Sunday. The sheriff was notified, a search warrant was signed and two of the monitors were recovered from Williams.
Williams maintained it was nothing more than a misunderstanding. "I did not steal anything," he said in court papers. "I was a Licensed Attorney and I had a Master TCLEOSE license," referring to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education. "Why would I sacrifice all of that for two monitors?"
He claimed he was setting up a video conferencing system so he could carry out his duty as a magistrate from his office. The other JPs had discussed the idea on and off for years. But the head of the IT department said Williams wasn't authorized to take the monitors, and that they were intended for dispatch anyway.
Prior to trial, District Attorney Mike McLelland appeared ready to make an example of him. "This is the sort of thing that people elected me for in the first place. They were tired of wrongdoing being done in county government and nothing being done about it," he told the Terrell Tribune.
Hasse was willing to let Williams slide on a misdemeanor in exchange for a guilty plea, but Williams insisted on a jury trial. Meanwhile, he argued at pretrial hearings that he was the victim of a political vendetta. He'd supported McLelland's opponent, Rick Harrison, he said. Williams signed a campaign flier questioning the circumstances of McLelland's departure from a job at Child Protective Services and raising doubt about his Republican credentials during McLelland's unsuccessful 2006 run for district attorney.
"This is an example of one man using his office, and all its power, to ruin a political opponent," Williams' attorney argued in court papers.
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The jury didn't buy it, and convicted him on May 23, 2012. "Losing my Attorney's License and TCLEOSE License is a life long sentence," Williams said in a presentencing report. "I will have to seek another career, with a felony I will not be able to earn what I am used to. My life has taken a drastic turn."
His wife, he noted, was on disability, and his in-laws depended on him. Williams got no jail time, and a two-year probated sentence.
Now he appears to be a suspect in the slayings of McLelland, his wife, Cynthia, and Hasse. According to an arrest warrant, he sent an anonymous email to unnamed law enforcement authorities on March 31 -- the day after the McLellands were found shot to death in their Forney home -- threatening further attacks if certain demands weren't met.
Investigators served him with a search warrant Friday afternoon and looked through his home, along with a storage unit in Seagoville, where they found weapons and a Crown Victoria. A search warrant affidavit hasn't been released yet, which could explain what investigators were looking for and why.