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District Attorney Sonny McAfee aware of dangers of profession, emphasizes awareness after slayings

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

LLANO — The recent slayings of a Texas district attorney and his wife in their home has reminded local law enforcement officials of the dangers of their jobs.

“Obviously, it’s the topic of discussion because of the horrible nature of (the Kaufman County) tragedy,” said Sonny McAfee, the 33rd Judicial district attorney for Burnet, Llano, Blanco and San Saba counties. “We’re all talking about it. It’s a concern to everybody.”

On March 31, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were apparently gunned down in their home outside of Forney. The community is located southeast of Dallas but is considered part of the area metroplex.

Authorities said they have no leads in the apparent murder at this time.

The fact it is the second such murder in the county has local residents and government officials on edge. On Jan. 31, a suspect apparently gunned down Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse outside the Kaufman County Courthouse.

Officials have not said the slayings are related.

McAfee said people in law enforcement or in the prosecutor’s office understand there is always a risk for retaliation or attacks, but the recent incidents are almost beyond comprehension.

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “By the nature of what (prosecutors) do and the people we have to deal with, the serious crimes prosecutors have to deal with and (the) staff at prosecutor’s offices have to deal with, you should always be aware of (the dangers) because these are people who (No. 1) have committed a criminal act if we’re prosecuting them, and (No. 2) they are many times prone to violence.”

McAfee said he has discussed the matter of personal safety with his staff.

“Probably one of the greatest dangers in any situation is complacency. And thinking, ‘Gee, it will never happen,'” he said.

McAfee said attacks on court officials and at courthouses do happen. He listed several, including one in 1998 that took the life of Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Chris Marshall and private-practice attorney John Edwards. The gunman also shot and wounded then-appellate prosecutor Steve Conder as well as judges John G. Hill and the late Clyde Ashworth.

In February 2005, McAfee said a gunman opened fired at the Smith County Courthouse in Tyler. The shooter killed his ex-wife Mirabel Estrada and an innocent bystander named Mark Allen Wilson who was rushing to help.

The man wounded two sheriff’s deputies, a police officer and his own son, who was with Estrada before law enforcement officers killed him after a high-speed pursuit.

According to the National District Attorneys Association, 14 prosecutors have been killed during the past century with at least eight targeted because of their jobs.

McAfee wouldn’t comment on if his office is using additional security measures. But he, his prosecutors and his staff are taking the recent killings seriously.

“All we can do is be aware and protect ourselves, our families and our staff the best we can,” he said. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute these (violent) criminals so they won’t hurt anybody.”

Picayune staff writer Connie Swinney contributed to this report. 

daniel@thepicayune.com