Confronting evil history of US prosecutor killings
(AP) – The killings of two Texas prosecutors have raised fresh questions about the safety of those who confront evil for a living. In fact, the murders of prosecutors have been relatively rare, with motives varying widely.
Over the last century, 14 prosecutors have been killed, according to news reports and statistics kept by the National District Attorneys Association. At least eight of them were targeted in the line of duty. At least several were slain in incidents unrelated to their jobs, apparently random acts of violence.
Details of 13 of the deaths have been compiled by The Prosecutors Memorial at the University of South Carolina, which counts about 40,000 state and local prosecutors nationwide. The Associated Press reviewed a 14th case, the 2008 killing of a prosecutor in Colorado, which the district attorneys group says it is considering for inclusion.
Here is a look at the slain prosecutors, whom the memorial calls “Ministers of Justice, messengers of truth, peaceful warriors for good who gave all”:
—District Attorney Mike McLelland of Kaufman County, Texas, and his wife were found shot to death Saturday inside their home. Authorities continued to search Monday for a suspect and motive.
—Two months earlier, on Jan. 31, Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down as he was walking to the courthouse. McLelland, Hasse’s boss, had raised the possibility a white supremacist gang killed his colleague. McLelland said his office has prosecuted several cases against racist gangs, which are active in the state.
—In Denver, Chief Deputy District Attorney Sean May was gunned down in his backyard in August 2008. The killing remains unsolved.
—Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. Messer was shot to death during a robbery as he was walking to a training seminar in Columbia, S.C., in August 2001. Four teenagers were convicted in his death and received prison sentences ranging from 35 to 47 years.
—Eddie Vaughn burst into Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney R. Fred Capps’ home in June 2000, hours before Capps was set to try him on sexual abuse charges. Capps grabbed his .357 Magnum revolver and a shootout ensued. Capps and Vaughn killed each other in the exchange.
—Gil Epstein, an assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County, Texas, had just left Houston’s Jewish Community Center after playing basketball in September 1996 when a robber confronted him. According to a witness, the robber shot Epstein after he saw Epstein’s prosecutor’s badge in his wallet. Epstein’s killer, Marcus Cotton, was convicted of murder in 1997.
—A hooded gunman killed Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Paul R. McLaughlin as McLaughlin was walking to his car in September 1995. McLaughlin, who was working with Suffolk County’s first anti-gang violence unit, was killed the night before he was scheduled to prosecute gang leader Jeffrey Bly for the third time. Bly was sentenced to life in prison.
—George Lott opened fire in a Tarrant County, Texas, courtroom in July 1992, killing Assistant District Attorney C. Chris Marshall as well as wounding two judges and another assistant district attorney. Lott killed another lawyer in a stairwell. He fled to a television station, where he said he wanted to draw attention to the wrongs inflicted upon him in his divorce and through a child-molesting charge his ex-wife filed against him. Lott was convicted of two counts of capital murder. He was executed in September 1994.
—Sean A. Healy, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx in New York City, was killed inside a grocery store a block from the courthouse in August 1990. He was buying a box of doughnuts when a car pulled up outside and its occupants fired seven or eight shots as part of drug turf war. Jose Diaz was sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder; Ernesto Garcia got 4 to 12 years for manslaughter.
—Malcolm Schlette walked into former Marin County, Calif., District Attorney William O. Weissich’s private law office in 1986 and shot Weissich at point-blank range, killing him. Weissich had prosecuted Schlette for arson in 1955. Schlette killed himself as police surrounded him. He left a note saying he wanted revenge on five people he believed were responsible for sending him to prison, including Weissich.
—Florida prosecutor Eugene C. Berry was home with his wife in Charlotte Harbor in 1982, when he answered the doorbell and was shot by Bonnie Kelly, the wife of a man Berry had prosecuted on drug trafficking charges. Kelly was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years.
—Victor C. Breen was serving as district attorney of New Mexico’s 10th Judicial District in 1971 when he was shot to death as he got into his car to drive to his office. The assailant, Jose Resendo Garcia, had been committed to the New Mexico Mental Hospital on Breen’s recommendation. The district attorney was considering having Garcia recommitted when he was killed. Garcia was sent back to the mental hospital and never brought to trial.
—Georgia prosecutor Floyd Hoard was mortally wounded in August 1967, when he turned on the ignition in his car, detonating up to a dozen sticks of dynamite connected to the vehicle’s electrical system. In April 1969, A.C. (Cliff) Park, 77, was convicted a second time of hiring assassins. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair.
—William M. Foster was working as commonwealth attorney in Hillsville, Va., in 1912 when he successfully prosecuted notorious outlaw Floyd Allen. Allen was sentenced to one year in prison, then stood up and announced “Gentlemen, I ain’t a goin.'” A gun battle broke out in the courtroom as members of Allen’s family and police fired more than 50 shots. Foster, Judge Thornton Massie and Sheriff Lewis F. Webb were among five people killed. Allen was wounded and arrested the next day. He and his son were electrocuted a year later.