ROCKWALL -- It took only about an hour- and a-half on Thursday for a Rockwall County jury in Eric Williams’ capital murder trial to come back with a guilty verdict.
Williams stood with his attorneys in the Auxiliary Court at the Rockwall County Courthouse as the guilty verdict in the slaying of Cynthia McLelland was read.
His head slumped forward, as the smirk that had been present disappeared.
Members of Cynthia and Mike McLellands’ families wiped their eyes and hugged one another.
Mike McLelland’s mother, Wyvonne, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
Cynthia McLelland was murdered in her home near Forney by Williams on March 30, 2013, along with her husband, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland.
Their murders happened just two months shy of the daylight slaying of McLelland’s top assistant, Mark Hasse, in the parking lot of the Kaufman County Courthouse Annex parking lot the morning of Jan. 31, 2013.
Hasse was on his way to the courthouse to meet public defender Andrew Jordan about a case. Law enforcement swarmed the area, but the killer or killers escaped.
Although Williams was indicted on capital murder charges for the McLellands and Hasse, special prosecutors Bill Wirskye and Toby Shook tried Williams for Cynthia McLelland’s killing.
The state and defense rested their cases on Wednesday after 2 ½ days of testimony by prosecution witnesses.
The defense rested its case without presenting any witnesses.
Dallas County Criminal District Court No.7 Judge Mike Snipes, appointed in 2013 to hear the Williams’ case after 422nd District Judge B. Michael Chitty recused himself, asked Williams if he wanted to take the stand in his defense. Williams said he did not.
So the jury was sent home on Wednesday afternoon, after the defense made a motion for a directed verdict of not guilty because of what it said was a lack of evidence. Snipes denied that motion.
The defense picked up on Thursday morning where it left off on Wednesday. It called for a mistrial based on the premise that audio from the pool video camera may have been sent over the Internet during Monday’s recesses.
Snipes denied that motion as well, had the jury brought in and read his instructions to them.
Nine pages long, they included definitions of burglary, reasonable doubt and information about the prosecution’s burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams had committed the murder.
Snipes told the jurors if they believed the evidence proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Williams had murdered Cynthia McLelland, they then would find him guilty of capital murder.
Or if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams murdered more than one person during the same criminal transaction, they then would find him guilty of capital murder.
Snipes also told the jurors if they did not believe or had a reasonable doubt that Williams did not commit the murders, they would then find him not guilty.
The jury was then sent to the jury room to deliberate at about 10:30 a.m. Williams sat with a Bible in front of him on the defense table.
Special prosecutor Toby Shook opened for the prosecution in its closing argument.
Shook said two people were killed in one transaction at about 6:40 a.m. on March 30, 2013.
“The murders happened pretty quickly,” he said. “They were not expecting anyone.”
In fact, they were still in their night clothes when they were gunned down.
The motive was that McLelland and Hasse prosecuted Williams in 2012 for stealing county computer equipment in 2011 while serving as Kaufman County Precinct 1 justice of the peace.
He was convicted of a felony and sentenced by Chitty in 2013 to two years probation. He lost his justice of the peace job, as well as his license to practice law.
“Eric Williams had no reason to be at that home,” Shook said.
He then talked about circumstantial evidence. Some cases, he said, have eyewitnesses.
“The court does not reward criminals if they eliminate witnesses,” Shook said.
The prosecution maintained throughout the case that Cynthia McLelland was collateral damage and Williams could not leave behind a witness to her husband’s murder.
Circumstantial evidence in many ways, Shook said, is the strongest evidence.
“There is no bias,” he said.
Shook reminded jurors that 28 witnesses testified about Williams’ links to the Cynthia McLelland’s murder.
He said Williams began contacting friends in 2012 to pull off the murders, including asking Barton Williams, a Texas State Guard soldier, to rent a storage unit for him at Gibson’s Self Storage in Seagoville, and a second guard soldier, Scott Hunt, for another favor.
Williams, Shook said, wanted Hunt to get rid of an upper to an AR weapon. Hunt declined the request and called Barton Williams to tell him he was afraid Williams, a former guard soldier, may hurt himself.
During Hunt’s meeting at the Angry Dog restaurant on Commerce Street in Dallas on Jan. 4, 2013, Hunt said Williams also asked about ammunition being able to penetrate body armor and go through glass.
Shook also recounted how Williams bought a former Irving police vehicle off Craig’s list under the name of Richard Green.
The prosecution tied the vehicle to Williams through fingerprints, emails and the fact he used his business postage meter to mail a garage door opener back to the former owner of the Ford.
Then he reminded jurors about the videos of what he said were Williams’ Ford SUV entering the storage facility the morning of the McLelland murders and the Crown Victoria leaving. Then video, Shook said, caught the Crown Victoria reentering the facility and Williams’ SUV leaving.
Williams, according to Shook, went to the McLelland residence in the Crown Victoria and was wearing a bulletproof vest and sheriff’s badge when he went to the door of their home.
At 6:40 a.m., verified by ADT security records, the front doors open. Then Williams goes through the front door, according to Shook.
“He becomes an efficient and ruthless killing machine,” Shook said. “[Cynthia McLelland] saw what was coming.”
Bullets struck her in the chest and she put her hand up to block the slew of bullets.
“She knows what is going to happen to her,” Shook said. “She saw what was coming and raised her arm. She did not have a chance.”
Members of Cynthia McLelland’s family were quietly sobbing and dabbing their eyes as Shook described the scene.
He then said Williams moved quickly into the house while Mike McLelland came out to aid his wife.
Williams, according to Shook, then shoots Mike McLelland.
McLelland, Shook said, is moving back and takes many shots to the back. There is also blood on the wall behind him.
McLelland falls, Shook said.
“Finally, he stands over him and fires round after round after round,” he said.
Williams fires 20 rounds in about a minute after entering the McLelland home, according to Shook.
Then, before Williams leaves, Shook said he fires one last shot into the top of Cynthia McLelland’s head.
“She had to be on the ground to receive that shot,” he said. “Eric Williams wanted to make sure that 65-year-old woman who [does quilts] is dead before he leaves.”
Williams returns his gear and car to the storage unit.
When the storage unit is searched, investigators found a live round from an AR weapon.
“That seals his fate,” Shook said. “That’s the smoking gun.”
Williams’ second fatal mistake, he said, was getting on the Internet the next night and sending an anonymous confession to Kaufman County Crime Stoppers using what he thought was a stealth network, the Tor Network, according to Shook.
“’Do we have your full attention now,’” Shook recalls the email. “That folks, can only be written by the killer. He is having fun here, folks. It is a confession.”
Forensics experts, he said, traced that back to Williams.
“Leaving that tip was about the dumbest mistake in the history of homicide,” Shook said. “Stupid. I submit to you folks that we have proved [his guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Lead defense attorney Matthew Seymour gave the closing argument and told the jury there was no evidence linking Williams to the murder.
There also was no weapon connecting him to the crime, according to Seymour.
He wanted to know where were the treasure trove of evidence and airtight case.
“What you have is circumstantial evidence,” Seymour said.
The prosecution, he said, wanted the jury to believe a mountain of circumstantial evidence proved Williams’ guilt instead of presenting direct evidence in the case.
Seymour said there was not a single eyewitness tying Williams to the murder or putting him at the scene.
“I remind you of your oath,” he said. “This is your own personal decision. You all have your own vote to what makes sense to you.
“The state has the responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Seymour said. “All of you have to believe it.”
He also reminded the jurors of Snipes’ charge to the jury of Williams’ presumption of innocence.
“You must give it full weight,” Seymour said. “The defense carries no burden in this case. They do.
If you have reasonable doubt, vote not guilty.”
He advised the jurors to ask themselves where, how and when they have been shown Williams was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Everything Mr. Shook told you is fantasy,” Seymour said. “No forced entry. If they had found evidence those locks had been picked, you would have had someone talk about it.
“They missed shell casings when they were [at the McLellands],” he said. “Some were behind the entertainment center.”
Seymour asked jurors to think about why investigators missed those shell casings.
He also said there was no DNA evidence tying Williams to the McLellands’ murder.
And he hinted that Williams’ wife, Kim, who also has been charged with three counts of capital murder, may have sent the emails to Kaufman County Crime Stoppers.
Seymour also reminded jurors that a forensics expert acknowledged that a policy book deemed obtaining gunshot residue on someone’s hands more than four hours after a crime is not meaningful.
Williams was tested for GSR late March 30, well after the murders of the McLellands.
“The test has no value,” Seymour said. “There was not a single witness that testified Eric Williams said he would get Mike McLelland.”
He said there were no motive and no evidence.
“You build a house of cards and no foundation,” Seymour said about the prosecution. “That is what I am supposed to do, knock it down.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I believe I showed you reasonable doubt,” he said.
Wirskye took over the second part of the prosecution’s closing argument.
“If not Eric Williams, then who?” he asked. “Why would [Kim] frame her husband?
“They said Mr. Shook’s presentation was fantasy,” Wirskye said. “I wish it was fantasy.”
The jurors, having seen graphic photos of the murder scene, he said, would have those images indelibly seared into their minds.
“No matter how hard you try, you will never get it out of your mind,” Wirskye said. “Two people lost their lives under a hail of lead. That is real life.”
He said Williams had seething rage and wanted revenge for his prosecution and conviction.
Wirskye asked the jurors not to be fooled – the same weapon was at the murder scene, the storage unit and was used for target practice by Williams underneath an overpass of U.S. Highway 175.
At times Wirskye walked over to where Williams was sitting with his attorneys, pointing at Williams as he looked down instead of looking at Wirskye.
“I know it is enough to convict him of capital murder,” Wirskye said. “We had an eyewitness until he put a bullet into her brain.”
He said the McLellands would have never let Williams into their house.
“It ought to turn your stomach to even consider it,” Wirskye said.
The state’s case, he said, was so airtight it let the air out of the defense. That is why Williams’ attorneys did not present a case and chose to rest instead.
The motive, Wirskye said, was revenge for the men who prosecuted him.
“People kill every day for revenge,” he said. “The motive is so clear. It is so crystal clear. It makes your duty clear.
“This is a simple decision,” Wirskye said. “Justice in this case is sure. It is your duty to make sure it is swift.”
Each pull of the trigger, he said, is meant to kill.
“He is pulling the trigger over and over,” Wirskye said. “It is no fantasy. This happened folks. Mike McLelland stood up in front of a judge and sought justice. Now it is your turn to return a true verdict.”
The verdict was swift. Jurors unanimously said Williams was guilty.
Outside the courthouse, Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said now the families may begin to have closure.
“It was a good, solid case,” Wood said. “My gracious. That is as good a case as you can put together. There is a sense of relief.”
The jury, prosecution, Williams and his defense team will be back in court Monday morning to begin the sentencing phase.
Gary E. Lindsley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.