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Former Texas justice of peace convicted of murder, could face death

Posted at 5:23 PM, Dec 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-05 17:23:08-05

Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace in Texas accused of killing two prosecutors, could soon be sentenced to death after being convicted of capital murder.

A Kaufman County, Texas, jury on Thursday took about 1½ hours to find Williams guilty of murder in the death of Cynthia McLelland, the wife of that county’s then-District Attorney Michael McLelland, the county’s Bruce Wood said. The couple was fatally shot in March 2013 at their home in Forney, which is about 20 miles east of Dallas.

Eric Lyle Williams, a former Justice of the Peace has been charged with making a

Eric Lyle Williams, a former Justice of the Peace has been charged with making a “terrorist threat”.

Williams wasn’t put on trial for Michael McLelland’s death or the January 2013 killing of Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, though authorities did accuse him in both of those deaths.

Even then, Williams could be executed. The sentencing phase in the Cynthia McLelland case is set for Monday morning, at which time prosecutors will ask jurors — the same ones who found him guilty — to recommend the death penalty, Wood said.

“I understand there will be quite a few witnesses brought in on both sides,” said Wood, who is a Kaufman County judge in addition to speaking for the county.

Wood estimates the sentencing phase could last all next week.

County Sheriff David Byrnes has said the three killings — of Hasse and the McLellands — stemmed from Williams’ “past legal problems with the criminal justice system of this county.” These legal troubles included a 2012 conviction on burglary and theft charges that led to his removal as justice of the peace.

According to court papers, his wife Kim has confessed to her role in the killings and implicated her husband as the triggerman. In Hasse’s death, Kim Williams was the getaway driver; in the McLellands’ killings, she was the passenger, Byrnes has said.

A grand jury tied all three killings together in April 2013 when they indicted the couple on capital murder, though Williams’ wife Kim has yet to stand trial. Plus, Eric Williams himself hasn’t been tried for Hasse or Michael McLelland’s deaths.

The cases have shaken many in Kaufman County, a community of about 100,000 residents in northeastern Texas.

“It’s an unusual situation because it was an attack on law enforcement, but the other part of law enforcement — the prosecution (as opposed to police),” Wood said. “That seldom occurs, especially in a rural county.”