KAUFMAN (CBSDFW.COM) – Former Justice of the Peace, Eric Williams was once a fixture around the Kaufman County Courthouse.
Now, that he’s facing the death penalty for the murders of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife Cynthia, and his top assistant Mark Hasse, Williams asked a judge to move his case — for fear he won’t get a fair trial in Kaufman.
Special Judge Michael Snipes asked Williams if he agreed to permit a change of venue to Rockwall County. Williams said yes. Judge Snipes then asked Williams if he discussed the issue thoroughly with his attorney. Again, Williams said yes. When asked by the judge if Williams believed it was in his best interest to move the trial to Rockwall County, the accused murderer said, “Yes sir.”
After prosecutors agreed, the judge moved the trial to neighboring Rockwall County with the hope of finding a fair jury. Judge Snipes then set March 28 as a tentative date to begin the jury selection process, and said he hopes to have a final jury picked by August 15.
He then set October 20 as a tentative trial date. But Williams’ defense attorney Michael Seymour, an assistant public defender from Lubbock, told the judge he wouldn’t be ready for trial that soon, and requested a delay.
Janice Hill has owned her office supply and gift shop in the Rockwall courthouse square for 34 years.
“I’m really surprised that they are because it happened in Kaufman. I don’t have a problem with it, but I feel like he would get a fair trial there just as he would here,” said Hill.
Another Rockwall resident, Shirley Vosper said she was surprised by the decision. “I suppose there’s too much prejudice in Kaufman County is maybe what they’ve decided?”
Back in Kaufman, County Judge Bruce Wood and new District Attorney Erleigh Norville Wiley said they support the decision.
“I, just like Judge Wood, believe we’ll get a fair and impartial trial in Rockwall County because I thought we could get one right here,” said Wiley.
The ruling to move the trial comes one week before the one year anniversary of the Hasse murder. “Everyone in the DA’s office misses Mark. It doesn’t have to be the anniversary. They miss him everyday,” said Wiley.
The next few weeks and all of 2014 is going to be consumed by the trial, according to Judge Wood, who added that everyone involved will persevere.
Owner of 2 Sisters Quilt Shoppe across the street from the Kaufman County courthouse, Cathy Spurlock was friends with the McLellands.
“I personally still miss Cynthia everyday, and I miss seeing Mike everyday coming out of the courthouse and waving. I don’t know that that’s ever going to stop,” said Spurlock.
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