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KAUFMAN, Texas (Reuters) - Authorities said on Saturday they had no solid leads on the identity of a masked, black-clad gunman who killed a Dallas-area prosecutor in an execution-style slaying in a courthouse parking lot.
But law enforcement sources have acknowledged that Thursday's killing in Kaufman, a town of about 6,800 people on the southeastern outskirts of Dallas, may have been an act of retaliation by a drug cartel or other organized crime group, including the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood.
Mark Hasse, 57, a prosecutor in the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office, died of multiple gunshot wounds on the same day the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement saying the district attorney's office was among the agencies involved in a racketeering case targeting the Aryan Brotherhood hate group.
The Texas arm of the Aryan Brotherhood was described in an indictment unsealed in November as a gang responsible for murders, arson, assault and other crimes and prone to "extreme violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline and retaliate against those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement."
Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh stressed that the Aryan Brotherhood was just one criminal organization or suspect possibly behind the murder.
Hesse had been part of various organized crime prosecutions and also had been a criminal defense attorney in Dallas.
"We have no specific information that Aryan Brotherhood is a factor here," Aulbaugh said. "We're not ruling out any involvement until we know."
Kaufman County Court-at-Law Judge Erleigh Norville Wiley, who once worked alongside Hesse as a prosecutor in Dallas, said the attack had all the hallmarks of hardened criminals who put a premium on intimidation.
"They wanted us to know they could it," Wiley told Reuters. "It's chilling. This wasn't a rookie deal. Rookies don't happen to shoot a DA and execute him yards from the courthouse, get in a car and calmly drive away, and shoot him in one of the few spots where there are no cameras."
Her comments were echoed by Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood, who described the daytime shooting as brazen.
A reward fund has grown to more than $73,000 as officials hope to shake out information and leads, Wood said. That includes some $30,000 offered by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, where Hasse worked from 1982 to 1988.
"We're trying to get this reward up as high as we can," Wood said. "There's money in coming in hourly, and so we're hoping that the larger that fund gets, maybe that'll cause somebody to come forward with additional information."
Police have quoted witnesses as saying the gunman fled in a silver or brown car that had no license plates. The driver also was dressed in black and masked.
"The is truly an attack on our criminal justice system, which is really one of the basic fabrics of the free and open society that we live in," Wood said.
Services for Hasse were scheduled for February 9 in Terrell.
Additional reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin and Sarah Mervosh in Kaufman; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott