The Cautionary Instruction: Public servants the target of assassins

Friday, 05 April 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

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After one of his assistant prosecutors was gunned down in January, Kaufman County, Texas, District Attorney Mike McLelland carried a gun everywhere, even when walking his dog. McLelland’s assistant Mark Hasse was killed in a parking lot a block from the district attorney’s office. Last Saturday, McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death in their home.

On Wednesday, Eugene Crum the sheriff of Mingo County, West Virginia was shot and killed in front of the county courthouse.

Colorado's corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman County.

El Paso County, CO, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Joe Roybal said investigators had found no evidence so far connecting the Texas killings to the Colorado case, but added: "We're examining all possibilities."

The National Prosecutor Memorial in Columbia, SC lists the names of 11 prosecutors who were murdered in connection with their criminal justice responsibilities.

The next two names to be added to the monument will likely be Hasse and McLelland. The last DA to be murdered was Sean May, of Adams County, CO, shot outside his home in 2008.

The killing of prosecutors would seem more likely in places like Columbia, Mexico and Italy, due to the Mafia or drug cartels.

In Italy, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were among the first prosecutors to aggressively and successfully go after the mob in Sicily. Falcone was killed in 1992 by a roadside bomb and not long after Borsellino was killed by a car bomb.

Several months ago Robin Barton wrote for The Crime Report, “It’s unlikely that prosecutors in the U.S. will ever be in the kind of everyday danger that these brave men faced.” That may not be the case now nor has it been over the last half a century. 

In 2010, Glenn P. McGovern wrote in Targeting Violence: A Statistical and Tactical Analysis of Assassinations, Contract Killing and Kidnapping that there had been 56 attacks on prosecutors worldwide since the 1950s. Forty-one percent of those attacks occurred since 2000. More importantly 25 percent of the attacks occurred in the United States — more than Mexico, Italy and Columbia.

It’s not just state prosecutors. According to data from the Department of Justice, reported threats against assistant United State attorneys rose from 152 in 2005 to 208 in 2010. The last murder of a federal prosecutor occurred in 2001. Thomas C. Wales a federal prosecutor from Seattle was killed by a gunman who shot through a window into Wales’ home. His killing remains unsolved.

In fact, one of the federal prosecutors in Houston taking on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a prison gang possibly connected to the McLelland killing, has withdrawn over security concerns.

(Top image: A police officer salutes as people paid their respects at the memorial service for Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia in Mesquite, Texas, yesterday. LM Otero/Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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