News Column

Aryan Brotherhood Targeted in Texas Murder Probe

April 2, 2013

Investigators trying to solve the murders of a North Texas district attorney, his wife and an assistant prosecutor are zeroing in on a local white supremacist prison gang known for brutal retaliations against its own members and running methamphetamine and other drugs outside prison walls.

Just what role, if any, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas played in the deaths -- Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, who were found shot to death in their home Saturday, and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was killed outside a courthouse Jan. 31 -- remains a puzzling unknown.

The gang's involvement is not "outside the realm of possibility, but it's unusual based on past history," said Roberta Clark, community director of the Anti-Defamation League's North Texas/Oklahoma regional office, who has studied the gang.

Law enforcement officers on Monday escorted Kaufman County employees to work and beefed up security around the main courthouse. Agents, some carrying semiautomatic weapons, cased government buildings.

"I don't want to walk around in fear every day ... but on the other hand, two months ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation," said County Judge Bruce Wood, the county's top administrator.

The couple's slaying came less than two weeks after Colorado's prison chief was gunned down at his front door, apparently by an ex-convict with ties to another white supremacist prison gang, raising the specter of a white-supremacist connection. The suspect, Evan Spencer Ebel, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later after a high-speed chase about 100 miles from Kaufman County.

A law enforcement official told USA TODAY on Monday that material on how to assemble explosives was found with Ebel following the fatal shootout with Texas authorities. However, there was no evidence that the suspect had actually acquired any materials or that he intended to use such a device.

Although the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is regarded as extremely violent, it would be extraordinary for the group to order killings of high-ranking public officials and risk the resulting investigative scrutiny, said the official, who has knowledge of the matter but is not authorized to comment publicly.

After the March 19 murder of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements, Gov. John Hickenlooper authorized an inquiry into whether other public officials were being targeted for assassination, the law enforcement official said. The investigation is focused on prison gang members and their associates.

The inquiry was authorized as local officials became concerned that Ebel's attack might have been a prelude to other targeted killings, the official said. No links to the Kaufman County killings have been revealed.

McLelland himself, in an interview with the Associated Press last month, raised the possibility that Hasse was killed by a white supremacist gang. He said Hasse hadn't personally prosecuted any cases against white supremacists but that his office had handled several and the gang had a strong presence in the area.

In November, the FBI announced that 34 members of the Aryan Brotherhood, including four senior leaders, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston for charges ranging from racketeering to murder, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy to distribute meth and cocaine, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Houston. Ten defendants have been charged with offenses that could carry the death penalty, while the remaining 24 defendants face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Kaufman County prosecutors assisted in the multiyear investigation.

In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned in a statewide bulletin that authorities had received "credible information" that the Aryan Brotherhood was "actively planning retaliation against law enforcement officials" who helped secure the indictments.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was founded in the early 1980s in the Texas prison system, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has tracked the gang. The gang, which numbers around 2,000, is active in and out of prison. Although one of the most violent of the white supremacist gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas rarely -- if ever -- is involved with the assassinations of law enforcement officials, Potok said.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas operates in North Texas, Clark said. They brutally retaliate against members who have wronged the group or rival gangs encroaching on their drug turf but are not known to target law enforcement officials, she said. "We don't tend to see that approach," Clark said. "There tends to be a tremendous amount of violence toward each other with these groups."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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