KAUFMAN, Texas (Reuters) - The newly appointed district attorney in Kaufman County, Texas, where two prosecutors have been gunned down this year, stood outside the county courthouse Thursday afternoon and said that despite the danger, she is confident about her new position.
“There is danger,” Erleigh Wiley told reporters. “We’re all in danger in Kaufman County. I don’t know if I‘m stepping into any more danger than I was already in.”
“I‘m confident that brighter days are ahead for Kaufman County,” she added.
Wiley, a former Dallas County prosecutor now serving as a Kaufman County judge, will finish out the term of slain district attorney Mike McLelland that is set to end in 2014. Her appointment by Texas Governor Rick Perry is subject to Texas Senate confirmation.
McLelland and his wife were found shot to death on March 30 at their home near Forney, 22 miles from Dallas, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down on January 31. McLelland had publicly vowed to capture Hasse’s killer.
No arrests have been made for the killings of the McLellands and Hasse, nor have investigators named a suspect or person of interest.
Lieutenant Justin Lewis, a spokesman for the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department, said Thursday that tips are coming in on a regular basis but he could not elaborate on the type or number.
Wiley, 50, who replaces interim district attorney Brandi Fernandez, said she has not been briefed on the investigation.
Wiley said she met with the district attorney’s office Thursday morning and was impressed with the team McLelland put together. Speculation among former prosecutors and politicians about who carried out the murders have included the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Perry also has suggested they might be tied to Mexican drug cartels, without citing evidence.
“After all the things that have happened to this office, they are rock solid,” Wiley said of the team assembled to investigate the attacks.
Wiley, who is married to Dallas-based federal prosecutor Aaron Wiley, said her husband supports her decision to step into office despite the potential hazards.
“He’s concerned for my safety and our family’s safety,” she said. “We understand the risks.”
Katherine Robinson, a Dallas prosecutor who has been friends with Wiley since their law school days, said in a phone interview that she has been concerned about Wiley’s safety since Hasse was killed.
Wiley told Robinson she was one of the last people to speak with Hasse and walked out of the courthouse with him the evening before his murder.
“It’s a dangerous job, I suppose it always has been,” Robinson said. “We’re all a little bit more aware of the dangers of what we do but we’re not going to stop doing the right thing.”
Wiley said she wants to assure Kaufman County residents that the district attorney’s office continues to be fully operational and is committed to moving forward with cases.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Greg McCune and Eric Walsh