Kaufman County Copycat Killings?
Most people reading about the killings of Kaufman County officials earlier this year - Mark Hasse, an assistant district attorney was shot on the courthouse steps in January, then District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found dead in their home on Easter weekend - responded with the appropriate reactions of horror, concern and flat-out disbelief that things like this could happen in that quiet little county up in North Texas. But some people - namely the criminal types - seem to have had a different response.
Instead of taking the time to ponder what the hell was going on in Kaufman County to make someone go after government officials, it seems some may have looked at the murders - which former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams and his wife Kim were arrested for and charged with - as an excellent idea.
Last week the United States Attorney's Office charged a 71-year-old Fort Worth man with murder for hire. Phillip Ballard, 71, was already being held on tax-related charges, when he was indicted and charged with attempting to hire a hitman to kill U.S. District Judge John McBryde, according to WFAA.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a release last week that Ballard was going to pay a fellow inmate $5,000 to kill McBryde. (Really an undercover agent. Don't these people watch TV. The guy offering to kill whoever you're trying to kill for money is always an undercover agent.)
And Ballard isn't the first person to look around and allegedly think that the best thing to help out his case would be getting rid of the people involved in conducting it. There's also the 84-year-old inmate in Montgomery County. Dorothy Canfield may have the face of a sweet little granny type but she was charged in April, right after Williams and his wife Kim Williams were charged with the Kaufman killings.
While the plan to off Ballard's judge may not have been directly inspired by Kaufman, Canfield has the distinction of giving the Kaufman murders a direct shout-out in her discussions with the assassin-who-wasn't.
It's never a good idea to go after a government official but Canfield really took that bad idea and ran with it, telling a her potential assassin-for-hire (really an undercover Harris County District Attorney's Office investigator) to "make it look good" when it came time to kill Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Robert Freyer and to injure District Attorney Brett Ligon, according to ABC news.
For a total of $7,500 ($5,000 for killing Freyer and $2,500 hurting Ligon) the killer-for-fire was supposed to get the job done for Canfield to distract from her trial for posing as an immigration lawyer and attempting to steal more than $50,000 from immigrants trying to become legal citizens.
The incident Canfield was proposing would create a media frenzy just like the one in Kaufman.
"I know that, and I'm looking forward to it," she told the undercover agent, according to KHOU. And it seems Canfield and Ballard aren't the only ones who were either A) inspired by Kaufman or B) had the incredibly bad timing to choose the time right after the killings when officials have really been digging and looking to prevent, understandably, the murder of government officials. In March allegations surfaced that a man on trial for murder in San Antonio, Jeffery Spaulding, 40, allegedly hired a fellow inmate to kill the judge presiding over his case.
In exchange for Spaulding helping the inmate make bail, the inmate was allegedly supposed to kill District Judge Angus McGinty after McGinty ordered Spaulding held without bail (he had removed a ceiling tile from his jail cell ceiling.)
The inmate ended up taking the bail money, but then decided to just go hang out at home rather than, you know, go try and kill a judge. The fact that this all came to light in early February, just days after Mark Hasse, prosecutor in Kaufman County, was gunned down, certainly didn't do these guys any favors, we'd guess.
Meanwhile, Williams and his wife are still being held on bonds for $23 million and $10 million, respectively, after Kim confessed to her role in the murders on April 17, according to the arrest affidavit.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.