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Local prosecutors say threats part of the job

By Glenn Evans
April 1, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The men and women who prosecute criminals in Texas courtrooms are used to threats, it's part of the job, but the Gregg County district attorney said Monday his staff knew to keep their eyes open before their counterparts in Kaufman County were gunned down.

"Every lawyer in this office knows to be, not necessarily wary, but to be aware of their surroundings," Gregg County District Attorney Carl Dorrough said Monday. "That would be the case had this event not happened. ... It's the same sort of caution that everybody should exercise."

Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said he held discussions with both his command staff regarding courthouse security and with Dorrough. Any steps taken on either of those fronts, if any, would be kept confidential, the sheriff said.

The fatal shootings Saturday of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in their Forney home followed the shooting death of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hesse as he walked from his car to the courthouse in Kaufman on Jan. 31.

Dorrough said any prosecutor is accustomed to being threatened by defendants or defendant's supporters inside the courthouse - but less so outside that environment.

"Tempers flare, emotions get high in the courtroom," he said. "But to experience it outside the courthouse - I don't know that I ever, or anyone I ever knew, worried about it outside of the courthouse. ... It's the law enforcement officers out there who face it on a daily basis. It's not something we expect as prosecutors."

Dorrough's counterpart in Henderson, Rusk County Attorney Micheal Jimerson, agreed the murders south of Dallas resonated within the prosecution community.

"The other side of that," Jimerson added, "is you don't want to get separate from the public too much. Why would they elevate us from the citizens? This is just one of those jobs that carries a certain amount of risk, and it's not as bad as a soldier who picks up a weapon and serves at post."

Dorrough added law enforcement officers, such as sheriff's deputies and police, carry a greater daily threat than prosecutors.

A spokeswoman for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, of which Jimerson is the board member, said prosecutors are a unique community.

"You don't do this job for the money," spokeswoman Sarah Wolf said. "You really do see man's capacity to hurt other people, and that's what prosecutors see every day. The people who stick around as prosecutors, they do it because it's a calling to them."

Wolf said association Executive Director Robert Kepple had put out a statewide call for any prosecutor's office that can spare staff to offer temporary help to the Kaufman County office. The district attorney's office isn't down only its boss and a lead prosecutor, she said. The remaining staff of 10 or so lawyers is emotionally shell-shocked.

The FBI and other state and federal agencies have joined local investigators in probing the Kaufman County murders.

"It's for the investigators to determine if the two are related or not," Dorrough said. "If they are, it's more than a crime against the two individuals. It's an attack on our whole system."

Those investigators also are looking into whether a similar murder of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements at his home on March 19 is tied to the Texas murders.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia put District Attorney Mike Anderson and his family under 24-hour security after the McLellands' bodies were found in their home.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday recommended Texans - especially public officials - be extra cautious after the weekend slayings.

"I would suggest everyone should be careful about what goes on, whether they're public officials or otherwise," the governor said.

Perry added, in a statement to the Associated Press, that he believes there is "a clear concern to individuals who are in public life, particularly those who deal with some very mean and vicious individuals" including white supremacy groups and drug gangs.

The Kaufman County prosecutor's office participated in a multiple-year investigation that led to the 2012 indictment of 34 alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, including four of its senior leaders, on racketeering charges.

"Our prayers go out to the McLelland family and all of Kaufman County," Jimerson said. "Somebody has got to get to the bottom of this. It's a privilege to get to do (this job), and you can't take that (dangerous) side out of the equation. We knew it going in, and it's still a privilege to serve."



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