Wife’s testimony “icing on the cake”
By David Webb
KAUFMAN–The jury in former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams’ capital murder trial in Rockwall sentenced him to death Wednesday.
The jury deliberated a little more than three hours before determining Williams represented a continuing threat to society and must die for the crime of killing Cynthia McLelland, the wife of former District Attorney Michael McLelland, who also died of multiple gunshot wounds in their home on Easter Eve in 2013.
Visiting Judge Mike Snipes, who oversaw the change of venue trial, called Williams a “psychopath,” and he compared him to other infamous murderers such as Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Kaufman County Sheriff deputies immediately returned Williams to the Kaufman County Detention Center from Rockwall to await transfer to the Texas Department Criminal of Justice. He eventually will be imprisoned on death row in the Allen B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston to await execution after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules on the mandatory appeal of the death sentence.
Family members of the McLellands vowed to be at Williams’ execution to watch him die. They confronted the defendant after the sentencing during victim impact testimony. One said he wanted to avoid the destructive feeling of hatred, but he could never “forgive and forget.”
Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood, District Attorney Erleigh Norville Wiley and Sheriff David Byrnes answered questions from the media in a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the courthouse in downtown Kaufman. County employees packed the courtroom to hear the officials speak.
“It’s been a nightmare in the sense it happened when we least expected it,” Wood said. “It happened to innocent people that were just doing their jobs. We’re pleased to move beyond that and go back to the normal routine life we enjoyed in Kaufman County prior to these horrible events happening.”
Applause broke out in some areas of the courthouse when county employees learned of the death sentence, Wood said. He described the murders as “cruel, heinous and evil,” and the verdict as “just.”
Wood noted the murders of two prosecutors, including that of former prosecutor Mark Hasse who was shot to death in the courthouse parking lot in Kaufman in January 2013, to be unprecedented in the nation. “It was an attack on our criminal justice system,” he said.
Wiley said many county employees felt “mixed reactions” to the death penalty being handed down. “People are saddened by the situation,” she said. “There may be some exaltation and excitement, but there is still sadness.”
Byrnes said he saw no remorse in his observations of Williams, and his wife, Kim, who is also being held in the Kaufman County Detention Center on charges that she helped her husband kill all three victims. “I didn’t detect any,” he said.
The officials noted Kim Williams, who testified against her husband in his trial, must still be prosecuted for her role in the crimes. During her testimony, she said that she helped investigators and prosecutors in an effort to avoid the death penalty.
The special prosecutors in the case said they will decide at a later date whether they will seek the death penalty against Williams’ wife, who filed for divorce against him while jailed. She struck no deal in exchange for her testimony, they said.
Byrnes said Kim Williams’ testimony against her husband put the “icing on the cake” as regards to the death penalty being delivered by the jury. She told investigators that her husband held other grudges and had a hit list that included Wiley and retired State District Judge Glen Ashworth, his former boss. She also gave information to investigators that led to the discovery of evidence used in the trial.
The district attorney said when she learned of being on a hit list Williams had prepared, she reacted with disbelief at first before the feeling eventually gave way to anger. “It was chilling,” she said. “I don’t know all of the emotions.”
Wood said he found Kim Williams’ testimony to be compelling. “My perspective was that she wanted to clear the record,” Wood said. “It was beyond anything I expected. I think she told everything she knew.”
Kim Williams told the jury she and her husband celebrated the killings of the McLellands with a steak dinner. She said her husband was “excited and happy” as they drove to kill Hasse, and that the prosecutor’s pleas not to be shot appeared to leave Eric Williams “satisfied with himself.”
She also testified that her husband’s motives for the killings was revenge for the two prosecutors convicting him in 2012 of stealing computer equipment from the county. His conviction caused him to lose his job as justice of the peace and to lose his law license.
Wood said that the murders traumatized everyone in Kaufman County, and county officials are now more cautious of their surroundings.