The murders of two Texas prosecutors has made safety a top concern for many prosecutors throughout the country. Until we know the motives of these killers, we can't determine what lessons prosecutors should learn from those tragic deaths.
That being said, it is the judgment of my partner and I that it's better to start thinking about what prosecutors should do to protect themselves from high-risk gang defendants than wait until the facts of these killings have been firmly established.
For several years, Ruth Arvidson Curry (a Los Angeles County District Attorney's paralegal) and I have specialized in the investigation and the prosecution of murders ordered and carried out by the Mexican Mafia (a.k.a. "La Eme"). Our experience may be instructive here. It all started when we volunteered to take over a Mafia prosecution from another prosecutor when he became the target of what our District Attorney determined was a "credible threat." We won a conviction and a death verdict. Here are some of our thoughts:
- Do not encourage the Mafia to think that killing the prosecutor will have any effect on whether, where, or when the trial takes place. That would encourage the Mafia to kill the prosecutor.
- It is best when La Eme believes that prosecutors are fungible, or interchangeable. If one prosecutor is eliminated, another one just will spring up in his place.
- Avoid acting as though your prosecution of the Mafia is personal as opposed to strictly professional. The prosecutor is just doing her job.
- With some exceptions, do not move the trial to another county. La Eme will have members, shot callers and soldiers in that other county. And you will be unfamiliar with those surroundings.
- In our opinion, a prosecutor's request to be taken off a Mafia prosecution or avoid being assigned to one in the first place should be honored so long as protections have been offered, discussed, and declined.
- Do not prosecute Eme murders if you are not authorized to carry or do not carry a firearm everywhere outside the courtroom. If you can't get authorization to carry on commercial airlines, fly law enforcement or military aircraft.
- Our understanding is that the wife of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, 63, answered the couple's front door. Cynthia McLelland, 65, was shot and killed and Mike McLelland was shot in their bedroom (where he kept his firearm). Our families often don't answer the door, if no one is expected. If we do, we take a firearm with us. We require a statement of intent and a show of valid identification before opening the door.
Anthony Manzella retired after 25 years of service with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Before becoming a DA, he spent 13 years teaching trial advocacy at the Loyola (Los Angeles) Law Center.