Court Upholds Death Penalty for Former Texas Peace Justice

AUSTIN (CN) – Texas’ highest criminal appeals court refused Wednesday to toss the death sentence of a former justice of the peace convicted of gunning down a Dallas-area district attorney’s wife and accused of killing two prosecutors over a personal grudge.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the appeal of Eric Williams, 50, of Kaufman, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for killing Cynthia McClelland, wife of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McClelland.

Williams appealed his conviction in January 2015, arguing his death sentence should be mitigated by scans that show his “brain is broken” due to diabetes-induced brain damage and a loss of connecting fibers in his corpus callosum that “may create schizophrenic symptoms.”

The McClellands were gunned down in their home on March 28, 2013, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was brazenly shot to death in a Kaufman County courthouse parking lot by a masked gunman in broad daylight.

Prosecutors argued during trial that Williams planned to killed McClelland and Hasse as revenge for their prosecution of him in 2012 for stealing three county computer monitors, a case that resulted in the loss of Williams’ job and his disbarment.

His wife Kim Williams testified that Cynthia McClelland was killed as “collateral damage” because she witnessed her husband’s shooting and that Williams shot her again because she was “still moaning.” Kim Williams was later sentenced to 40 years in state prison for helping her husband.

Williams was also charged, but not tried, in the deaths of Mike McClelland and Hasse.

Writing for the nine-member appeals court on Wednesday, Judge Michael Keasler rejected Williams’ characterization of the crimes as “isolated and factually connected incidents” motivated by revenge against people who “ruined his life.”

The judge said Williams’ “words and actions demonstrated a general disregard for human life.”

He said Williams had made several other death threats, including two additional murders he was allegedly planning when he was arrested.

“In addition to the three murders Williams had committed and the two murders that he was planning at the time of his arrest, Williams had a general history of making threats when he became angry or wanted to control others,” the 110-page opinion states. “He threatened to kill other attorneys over perceived insults and injuries. He also threatened to kill his wife Kim. He fired a gun at or near Kim, and she believed that he had done so intentionally. Williams had threatened a former girlfriend with a gun in an effort to keep her from walking away from him, and he had pointed a gun at a couple in a church parking lot where he was trying to catch his dog. Williams had also threatened to hit his elderly and ill father-in-law during a dispute over cell phone charges.”

Judge Keasler said the “future dangerousness evidence” shows Williams would constitute a continued threat to society.

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