The killing of the Kaufman County, Texas, district attorney and his wife is likely to turn up the heat on the notorious Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang.
Suspicion already had fallen on the Aryan Brotherhood after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down Jan. 31 near the Kaufman County Courthouse.
Now, with the slaying of District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, whose bodies were found at their home Saturday, law-enforcement sources say authorities will pursue any possible connections between the cases and the violent white-supremacist gang.
Federal, state and local law enforcement dealt a serious blow to the gang in October with the federal racketeering indictments in Houston of 34 alleged members, including four top bosses. The Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office was part of the multiagency task force credited with bringing the cases.
In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned that the Aryan Brotherhood could be “planning retaliation against law-enforcement officials” who helped secure the indictments in Houston.
“High-ranking members … are involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law-enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty,” the department said.
It also warned that the gang was “conducting surveillance on law-enforcement officers.”
Shortly after that alert, Hasse was killed in front of witnesses. An official with the U.S. Marshals Service recently said in a widely circulated email that the Aryan Brotherhood was the focus of that investigation.
Ordered killings are among the gang’s regimen of terror, federal authorities say. Most of the killings, though, are committed against other members, court records show, typically for such things as cooperating with law enforcement and stealing drugs.
In the Houston case, members are accused of issuing orders to kill rival gang members. They also have been accused of attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, drug dealing, weapons trafficking, arson and counterfeiting, court records show.
In one case, a member was ordered to kill a recruit and make it “as messy as possible” to send a message to other gang members about cooperating with police. Another member was told to kill a recruit and return with his severed finger.
Kelly Ray Elley, one of those indicted last year, told a gang enforcer in 2008 about his plan to kill a police officer, court records show.
Matthew Orwig, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, said it’s too soon to tell whether the nation is entering a new era in which law enforcement will be subjected to systematic retribution similar to what occurs in other countries.
“There certainly is a real troubling boldness to these offenses,” he said. “Part of the goal of a domestic terrorist organization is to instill fear in people.”
The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas formed in the early 1980s within the prison system for white members only, but it also operates outside prison.
The gang has a paramilitary structure in which soldiers take orders from officers within a command that includes captains, majors and generals.
The prison gang is one of 12 recognized by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to a 2007 publication. The list includes the Bloods, Crips, Aryan Circle and several Hispanic gangs such as the Mexican Mafia.
The Aryan Brotherhood’s rules are written into a “constitution,” and membership is for life. The punishment for disobeying an order or violating the rules ranges from beatings to death.
When released from prison, gang members are expected to report immediately to outside leaders and continue in the organization’s ongoing criminal enterprises.
All members are required to attend monthly meetings to discuss crimes, turn over money from those crimes and dish out beatings of fellow members if needed.
The gang’s activities in Texas include selling methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as firearms, court records show. At least one of the members indicted in Houston is accused of selling stolen pickups to drug cartels in Mexico.
On March 19, the state of Colorado’s prisons chief was killed at his home. The suspect, Evan Spencer Ebel, was a member of the white-supremacist 211 prison gang. He was killed two days later in Texas while trying to escape police in Decatur.
Officials have said they had not found any connections between him and the Hasse slaying.
The reward in the Hasse case is up to $100,000, but no arrests have been made.
McLelland was among those who had considered whether the Aryan Brotherhood could have been behind Hasse’s killing.
After the Colorado killing, McLelland told The Associated Press his office had prosecuted gang members and that the gang had a strong presence in his county.
“We put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year,” he said.