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Death penalty sought against man accused in Texas prosecutors’ killings

Posted at 5:25 AM, Jul 27, 2013

By Greg Botelho, CNN

(CNN) — Texas prosecutors said in court Friday they’ll seek the death penalty against Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace accused of killing two prosecutors who served in the same county he did.

But what they’ll do with the other person charged in the slayings –Williams’ wife — remains up in the air.

Kaufman County, Texas, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was slain in January on his way to work at a courthouse. Two months later, District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia McLelland were fatally shot at their home near Forney.

A county grand jury tied all three killings together in April, when they indicted Eric Williams and his wife, Kim, for capital murder.

One big question, though, still loomed: Would prosecutors try to get a death sentence for either or both Williamses, should they be convicted of murder?

That was partially answered Friday, in a brief hearing at the same Kaufman County courthouse where Eric Williams had been justice of the peace.

Special prosecutor Toby Shook told CNN that he and his fellow prosecutor, Bill Wirskye, announced in court that they will go for a death sentence against Eric Williams. But they did not indicate Friday whether or not they’ll do the same with Kim Williams.

“We haven’t made our final decision,” Shook said, adding that there’s no deadline to make such a call.

This scenario, as inconclusive as it might be, jives with what Kim Williams’ lawyer told CNN on Thursday.

Paul Johnson said then that he expected prosecutors to seek death for Eric Williams, but “was not so sure” about what they would do regarding his client.

County Sheriff David Byrnes has previously said the three killings stemmed from Eric Williams’ “past legal problems with the criminal justice system of this county,” including a 2012 conviction on burglary and theft charges that led to his removal from office.

His wife, Kim, has confessed to her involvement in the killings and implicated her husband as the trigger man, according to court papers.

In Hasse’s death, Kim Williams was the getaway driver; in the McLellands’ killings, she was a passenger, Byrnes has said. In both cases, Eric Williams fired the fatal shots, according to the sheriff.

Both Williamses were arrested in April. Eric is also charged with making a terroristic threat, having been accused of using his home computer to threaten police investigating the McLellands’ killings, according to a sheriff’s affidavit.

He is being held on $23 million bond, according to Kaufman County jail records. His wife — who is seeking a divorce, her lawyer told CNN on Thursday — is being held on $10 million bond.

Shook — who, with Wirskye, was sworn in as a special prosecutor in the murder case two days after the McLellands’ deaths — said that the decision to seek the death penalty against one or both of the accused would not significantly impact their approach.

“We just look forward to preparing the case and trying it in front of the jury,” the special prosecutor said.