The District Attorney of Kaufman County, Texas was apparently found shot to death along with his wife. A few months ago, one of the assitants in that same office was shot to death outside a courthouse.
These are, of course, terrible crimes. And it is certainly not out of bounds to believe that the killings were related to the work the men did, which colloquially is often described as “putting the bad guys away”. The bad guys are, after all, bad guys. At least some of them are. And bad guys do bad things like shooting you when you cross them, or when they believe you have crossed them.
All that said, there is something else that needs pointing out about this story.
In the first place, it is quite a story. Front page on CNN, all over the web. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, and since you’re dealing with gun deaths there isn’t a lot of mental effort required to conclude that you’re dealing with homicides.
But here’s the thing: defense attorney deaths don’t become the top story on CNN. And it’s not as if there aren’t defense attorney deaths that don’t raise some questions. Like this one. And this one, and this one, which were, in fact, gun deaths.
And how about this one?
The ones that aren’t obvious homicides are the scariest. If you’re in the hot seat, that is. Because people are slow to perceive the risk. In fact, most people never perceive the risk, even when it is pointed out to them, even when it makes sense objectively.
One reason why? They don’t see that risk confirmed, affirmed, validated in the media, like the risk to prosecutors and to cops.
So when Mark Hasse, the assistant district attorney that was shot to death outside that Texas courthouse in January, packed a pistol and varied his routine to make himself less of a target, no one called him “crazy” for doing that. And indeed he surely was not: there’s nothing good about being shot to death but it does tend to vindicate the taking of precautions that may have seemed unnecessary or pointless beforehand. Mark Hasse’s friends and colleagues took him seriously. As they should have.
But a defense attorney who believes himself to be at risk is likely to be met with at least skepticism. If not ridicule. And the defense attorney’s risk is in many ways greater – and frustratingly far more subtle – for the threat he perceives is not as likely to be so crude and so obvious, since it probably comes from law enforcement that is already busy and adept at covering its tracks.
And there is this inescapable fact: the law enforcement apparatus that poses the threat to you is the very same one that will “investigate” anything that happens to you.
You may think that homicides disguised to look like something else are far fetched. But once you have uncovered, say, a law enforcement perjury scheme and appear to be the only witness that can prove it, it doesn’t look like such a remote possibility to you.
I guess this is a matter of perspective. But the truth of the matter is, a defense attorney in that position cannot afford to disregard the risk. And he shouldn’t.