The Dallas Morning News reports that a federal prosecutor who had been handling a key case against the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas has apparently withdrawn over security fears following the weekend killings of a Dallas-area district attorney and his wife. While federal authorities have so far declined to confirm the reason for assistant U.S. attorney Jay Hileman’s departure, lawyers for two of the 34 defendants in the case tipped off the media to the personnel switch. “He’s obviously made a decision based on something,” one, Richard Ely, told the News. “I’d say it’s not a regular thing … but I would say this situation is probably a little bit different,” the other, Gus Saper, who represents the gang’s alleged leader, told the Houston Chronicle. According to Ely, a Justice Department prosecutor from Washington, D.C., will take Hileman’s place.
Readers of Slate’s new “Crime” blog will know why Hileman’s decision to step aside is particularly newsworthy: Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were gunned down in their home this past weekend, only two months after his assistant, Mark Hasse, was shot and killed outside of his office. Most signs currently point to members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a notorious prison gang, as the most likely suspects in those killings, in large part because the district attorney’s office was part of the multi-agency task force involved in a crackdown on the gang, which operates on both sides of the prison walls. Obviously, that has law enforcement officials on edge in Texas. If the Brotherhood was indeed behind those killings, today’s news suggests that the retaliation is likely having the desired effect.
The federal racketeering case against 34 members of the racist gang, a three-year investigation spearheaded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, was announced in November by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Three slayings were attributed to gang members, including the killing of a Houston man whose bullet-riddled body was found near the Houston Ship Channel.
As my colleague Justin Peters pointed out on Monday, it was that case that first signaled the FBI’s crackdown on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. At the time, the FBI trumpeted the arrests as “a devastating blow to the [gang’s] leadership.” One month later, however, Texas state officials announced that the gang was “actively planning retaliation against law enforcement officials.” The month after that Hasse was killed.
For the moment, all the feds are saying is that they’ll press on with the racketeering case, but today’s development suggests just one of the difficulties they’ll face until—and perhaps even after—the current Kaufman County cases are solved.