(KAUFMAN, Texas) — An assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting a gang of white supremacists for racketeering and murder in Texas has withdrawn from the case citing “security purposes,” just days after the second of two state prosecutors was killed in his home.
The assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case Jay Hileman filed a notice to withdraw from the case with the court, and on Tuesday sent an email about his decision to the defense lawyers representing 34 indicted members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
“He sent an email to all counsel that he was withdrawing for security purposes,” defense lawyer Richard Ely said. “I’m not going to speculate why, but I can understand why someone with a family might withdraw, yes.”
Another source familiar with the message told ABC News it is “abundantly clear” Hileman is stepping down because of security concerns. Thirty-four Aryan Brotherhood of Texas members were indicted in Houston in November for crimes including racketeering, drug distribution and kidnapping. Ten members potentially faced the death penalty as prosecutors accused them of ruthless violence, including ordering hits on rival gang members.
A review of the case shows that Kaufman County prosecutors assisted in the investigation, along with more than a dozen agencies. The two murdered prosecutors, Mark Hasse and Mike McLelland, were from Kaufman County.
In December, Texas authorities sent out a bulletin warning that the group might seek retaliation because of the crackdown, sources said. The case against them is expected to go forward this summer or fall.
Law enforcement sources have said the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a violent prison gang, are a top focus of an investigation into the prosecutors’ deaths.
Judicial officials in Kaufman County have been given special protections. Judge Bruce Wood said this week that he was given a body guard and sheriff’s deputies have been parked outside the home of Brandi Fernandez, the county’s new acting district attorney since her appointment on Monday.
Police have not linked the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas with the killings, and are poring through hundreds of cases on which Hasse worked, running down leads that point to Mexican drug cartels, local drug traffickers and other violent individuals.
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Miranda Green, CNN
Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Sonya Hamasaki, CNN
Michael Nedelman, CNN