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True Crime Chronicles podcast: The rage of Eric Williams

Ultimately, Eric Williams was found guilty of capital murder. A disgruntled, bitter former judge convicted of stealing computer monitors who was out for revenge.
Convicted killer Eric Williams

KAUFMAN, Texas — Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and wife Cynthia died at their Forney home in a "torrent of lead" fired from an assault rifle over Easter weekend in 2013.

Two months earlier, a masked gunman assassinated top prosecutor Mark Hasse in broad daylight as he walked to the courthouse in downtown Kaufman.

Investigators said Eric Williams, who is a former justice of the peace, meticulously planned to kill McLelland and Hasse. He harbored a deadly grudge because they had prosecuted him for stealing county computer monitors. Cynthia McLelland wasn't on Williams' death list. He referred to her as "collateral damage."

Reporter Tanya Eiserer worked as a newspaper reporter for 17 years before coming to WFAA. She remembers the morning she heard about the first murder, and the tense months that followed.

This week, Eiserer shares details of the story she helped cover on the podcast True Crime Chronicles. 

Subscribe to listen on Apple or on Spotify.

A man out for revenge

Eric Williams just couldn't let it go.

He’d lost his job, his livelihood, health insurance for himself and his wife. All just for a few computer monitors. Three to be exact.

But the damage was done. And Williams was planning revenge.

His wife would later describe the warning signs.

How his anger went beyond anything that might be considered normal. How he once pulled a gun on a couple in a parking lot. How he killed cats because he didn't like them. How he had threatened at times to kill her and himself.

But this time he meant business. Williams wasn't just making threats. He planned to kill the people who had brought him down.

He had a list of people. He’d bought bolt cutters and a crossbow and told his wife about his plans. He put napalm in pickle jars, telling her he planned to use it to blow out his victim’s stomach.

Fatal shooting rocks small town

Kaufman is a nice, quiet town just outside of Dallas. Just outside the county courthouse in town, 57-year-old Kaufman County Prosecutor Mark Hasse was gunned down in broad daylight.

It happened on Jan. 31. 2013.

The killer, Williams, and his wife had gotten up early that January morning. They drove to an auto parts store and picked up a getaway car he’d bought a few days earlier.

Kim Williams drove the car to downtown Kaufman and parked near Hasse’s “usual spot.”

Eric Williams wore a black Halloween mask, a black jacket and a bulletproof vest. His wife later described him as “happy, excited happy, nervous.”

When she asked her husband if Hasse had said anything, he only said “no, no, please no.”

Kim Williams would later describe Eric as happy, even cocky, as they watched a news conference later that night. He’d killed one of his enemies and gotten away with it and he planned to kill more.

The brazen nature of the crime sent shockwaves through the town. And people were scared.

After a few weeks, the official investigation seemed to hit a wall.

The DA wasn't letting up after the murder of one of its own, but the case still seemed to lose steam -- no leads, very little evidence, no suspects.

Another killing, a break in the case

Just as Easter arrived in Texas and the Dallas suburbs, Eiserer got another phone call about a killing.

This time, it’s the District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia.

Mike, 63, had 16 gunshot wounds and his wife Cynthia, 65, had eight.

There was an increased level of fear as people wondered who might be next.

But investigators found a common thread between McLelland and Hasse: Eric Williams.

Police paid a visit to Williams house.

A number, a unique identifier, that Williams was given when he decided to call CrimeStoppers himself, not once, but twice, was found in his home by investigators.

A man who served in the Texas National Guard with Eric Williams called police. He told investigators he had rented a storage unit in his own name for Eric Williams.

Inside police found enough evidence to arrest Eric Williams. The key piece of evidence was a live round that investigators determine had cycled through the weapon that killed the McLellands.

Ultimately, he was charged with capital murder. A disgruntled, bitter, former judge convicted of stealing computer monitors.

Later, Eric’s wife Kim Williams decides to cooperate to save herself and shares more evidence with investigators.

She tells them about some items that were thrown in Lake Tawakoni. After searching for an extended period of time they find a mask, a cell phone and a gun.

That evidence is important because it backs up Kim Williams' story that they had disposed of the items after killing the McLellands.

Putting Eric Williams behind bars ended much of the fear that had been spreading through Kaufman County, but it opened new doors and insight into the dark corners of Eric Williams' twisted mind.

Later, investigators learned Eric Williams had a list of more people he wanted to kill. He had a kill list.

That and other details would come out in the trial.

Trial gets underway for Eric Williams

As Eric Williams’ trial got underway in December 2014, the courtroom heard more about how the murders took place, including how he got inside the McLelland’s house.

He dressed up as an officer, including with a badge. That's how he got them to lower their fears.

Kim Williams testified that her husband told her he had to shoot Cynthia McLelland an extra time because she was still moaning. He told Kim he shot Cynthia because she was a witness, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jurors also heard about Eric Williams’ history of violence and threats. Multiple witnesses testified to hearing Eric Williams threaten to kill people.

The trial lasted two weeks and in the end, Eric Williams was found guilty.

During the penalty phase of the trial, as jurors considered the death penalty for Eric Williams, his wife Kim took the stand.

She drove the car, waited outside, was with her husband for all three murders -- a willing accomplice. But she testified he was a dangerous man, clearly meant to convince jurors that he should be sentenced to death.

In the end, all 12 jurors agreed that he should be.

At one time, Eric Williams had held court as a justice of the peace. After his conviction, he left the courtroom a condemned man.

For now, Eric Williams sits on death row in Texas and his lawyers have appealed without success.