HOUSTON, Texas -- When federal prosecutors announced a sweeping criminal indictment against the leaders of the prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, prosecutors involved were warned the group was threatening retaliation.
In an interview two months before he and his wife were murdered, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland downplayed the threat from ABT.
"When you deal with these bad people on a regular basis, you know there's always the potential for these people to do something bad to you,” Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland said on January 31, 2012 after his assistant district attorney, Mark Hasse, was gunned down outside the Kaufman County Courthouse.
At the time, McLelland said Hasse had not received threats from any prison gangs, wasn’t scared of anyone he prosecuted, and had only “peripheral” involvement in Aryan Brotherhood cases.
"That's not their modus operandi. They don't go around killing public officials,” said former prison warden and criminal justice consultant Terry Pelz.
Pelz, who in his prison career received threats from inmates including those in prison gangs, does not believe the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas would invite the pressure of local, state, and federal agencies by assassinating prosecutors. He said such a tactic is, however, the calling card of drug cartels in Mexico.
"Because they and other prison gangs work with the cartels in Mexico, it's possible cartels may have come into town and taken care of some business,” said Pelz. "It's possible they were doing business with someone else who took it more seriously and took out some officials to make a statement."
The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, some 1,500 members strong, has been under pressure from prosecutors. Kaufman County officials were among the numerous jurisdictions involved in the November federal indictment of 34 suspected members of the notorious prison gang. Prison officials warned prosecutors ABT was threatening retaliation.
Investigators are trying to determine if there is any connection to the murder of Colorado Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements at his home in Colorado Springs two weeks ago. The suspect, Evan Ebel, a recently released inmate with white supremacist ties, died in a shootout with authorities in Wise County, Texas.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Texas is second only to California in the number of hate groups like ABT. SPLC lists ABT and the KKK among the 62 groups it recognizes as hate organizations.