NPR Story
4:16 pm
Fri April 5, 2013

Texas Looks At Mexican Drug Cartels For Connection To District Attorney Murders

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 6:27 am

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A double funeral took place Friday morning in Texas for Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia. Both were gunned down in late March in what is seen an orchestrated attack on law enforcement. There are few clues in the shocking assault, but some are wondering if there’s a connection to the Mexican drug cartels.

The McLellands were at home March 30 when they were shot to death. Eight weeks earlier Kaufman County Deputy District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down. And while investigators aren’t talking, the speculation is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas could be responsible, since the Kaufman County district attorney's office was involved in an investigation into the ultra-violent white supremacist prison gang.

But Texas Governor Rick Perry went on Fox News and suggested Mexican drug cartels and the federal government’s inability to secure the border could be to blame.

“We know the drug cartels are very, very active. And the whole issue of border security and the failure of the federal government to put the men and women, whether they are military or if they are Border Patrol or whether they are working with the local law enforcement, [to] expend the dollars necessary," Perry said.

The next day Perry seemed to walk back that theory but still insisted that Mexican drug cartels are a major threat to Texas.

“My remarks were — it is very premature to be making any statements about who may or may not have been involved with this. There was a report by the Department of Public Safety that said the greatest threat to Texans’ safety were the drug cartels," Perry said.

That report, titled “2013 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview” read:

The Mexican cartels are the most significant organized crime threat to Texas, with six of the eight cartels having command and control networks operating in the state.

But recognized experts in the methods and operations of Mexican drug cartels say it’s highly unlikely they would order a brazen attack on U.S. soil against high-ranking law enforcement officers, such as the murders of the district attorneys in Texas.

Nathan Jones studies the cartels and Drug Policy at the Baker Institute. He says the cartels have never forgotten the lesson of the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA Agent Enrique Camarena.

“And the U.S. government had a very powerful deterrent effect by short term shutting down the border and putting incredible pressure on the Mexican government to make sure his body was turned over," Jones said. "As a result there’s kind of been this rule in the Mexican cartel drug trafficking world that U.S. law enforcement is off-limits."

Jones said the drug cartels have learned it’s bad for business.

Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University San Bernardino. He said the Texas murders have the hallmarks of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

"They are a very violent group. They are known for the brutality and gruesomeness of some of their torture killings. But they are also known for executions as well," Levin said.

But Jones said even if the attacks are not the direct handiwork of the Mexican drug cartels, the murders may have been inspired by the cartels' tactics of assassinations and direct attacks on law enforcement.

They are working to destabilize Mexico and break the back of the rule of law. But if that is the goal of the Texas murderers, Jones said, they will be disappointed.

“The difference is we have stronger state institutions here in the United States than in Mexico and we’ve spent decades building these. Mexico is currently in the process of building these," Jones said.

There is a $200,000 reward being offered for information leading to the arrest and indictments of people responsible for the Kaufman County murders. And the FBI has launched billboards throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico encouraging tipsters to contact Crime Stoppers with any information.

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