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Arrest raises hopes of progress in killings of Texas prosecutors

A photograph is displayed at a memorial service for Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia in Sunnyvale, Texas
A photograph is displayed at a memorial service for Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia in Sunnyvale, Texas

By Lisa Maria Garza and Chris Francescani

Kaufman, Texas / New York - The arrest of a former local official has raised hopes of progress in the investigation into the killings of two Texas prosecutors, even though police have yet to name any suspects in the shootings.

Former justice of the peace, Eric Williams, 46, was booked into jail on Saturday on a charge of making a "terroristic" threat, which generally involves a threat to commit violence.

His Kaufman residence was among the properties searched. On Saturday, Dallas media reported that FBI agents and Texas Rangers also searched several storage units in the nearby town of Seagoville.

Authorities in Texas have not said whether the alleged threat had any connection to the slayings, and Williams has told local media that he was not involved in the attacks.

No suspects have been named in the killings of assistant district attorney Mark Hasse, who was gunned down in late January, and district attorney Mike McLelland, who was found shot to death alongside his wife in March, Kaufman County Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Justin Lewis said on Sunday.

Williams is being held on $3 million bail, a jail official confirmed. He lost his position as justice of the peace in Kaufman County after being convicted last year of felony theft for removing computer monitors from a public building, according to Kaufman attorney Eric Smenner, a friend of Hasse, who prosecuted the case.

That connection appears to have sparked investigators' interest in Williams.

Williams' attorney David Sergi told the Los Angeles Times last week that on the day that the McLellands' bodies were found, Williams submitted to authorities' requests for gunshot residue tests on his hands, which were taken in a restaurant parking lot.

Sergi declined through a representative to comment on Williams' latest arrest.

Police seized computers and guns during a search of Williams' home in Kaufman on Friday, according local television station WFAA.

The arrest of Williams marked at least the third time investigators in the case have taken a person into custody over an alleged threat, and came as fellow Texas prosecutors were pledging to double an existing $200,000 reward to find the killers.

The Texas Rangers arrested a man on April 4 who was accused of using Facebook to threaten violence against an assistant district attorney. Two days earlier, authorities arrested another man suspected of making a telephone threat against a county official on a tip line set up for the case.

The attacks have deeply unnerved the sleepy, rural community and surrounding areas, and the apparent movement in the case is encouraging, said Smenner.

"People have been walking around ready for a bomb to go off, or shots to be fired, but nobody knows when or where," Smenner said. "That's a very stressful way to live."

In the course of the investigation, authorities have probed white pride prison gangs and Mexican drug cartels looking for clues as to who committed the murders, but no evidence implicating those groups appears to have materialized. The tension has weighed on local residents

"To not know who it is, if they're standing right next to you, is such a concern,'' said Kaufman resident Kimberly Lumsden at a prayer gathering Sunday in front of the courthouse. "But I have faith that justice always comes."

"It's like a soap opera ... everybody is just numb,'' said Lisa Hauk, who works at a tea shop near the spot where Hasse was killed. "I can't even wrap my head around it,'' Hauk said. "It's like something you'd read in a book."

(Editing by Todd Eastham; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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