McLellands cut down in torrent of bullets
By Gary E. Lindsley
ROCKWALL -- C.J. Tomlinson, at times choking up with emotion, on Monday described how he learned his parents’ best friends, Mike and Cynthia McLelland, were murdered Easter weekend 2013.
Tomlinson, a Dallas Police officer, was one of the witnesses to testify for the state during the first day of the Eric Williams’ capital murder trial.
Williams is being tried in the Auxiliary Court of the Rockwall County Courthouse for the murder of Cynthia McLelland, though he also was indicted on capital murder charges for allegedly killing Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his top assistant, Mark Hasse in 2013.
Special prosecutors Bill Wirskye and Toby Shook are seeking the death penalty for Williams.
Tomlinson said his parents, Leah and Skeet Philipps, were best friends of and went on vacations with the McLellands.
He said he knew Cynthia McLelland loved quilting and had the beginning of Parkinson’s disease.
Tomlinson said he also knew Mike McLelland and that McLelland was familiar with and had firearms.
He described how on March 30, 2013, he was putting crown molding in his house with his stepfather, Skeet Philipps, and his mother, Leah, had not been able to reach the McLellands and was concerned.
Leah Philipps went to the McLellands’ home near Forney and knocked on their door. Tomlinson said when she did not get any response, she called him.
So he and Skeet Philipps went to the McLellands’ home on Blarney Stone Way and Tomlinson found the front door unlocked.
“As soon as [the door swung open], I knew it was not right,” Tomlinson said.
He said he went two or three steps inside the house and his mom fell to her knees and started crying. She told him there were shell casings under his feet.
Tomlinson took another couple steps, yelling for Mike.
“There was Cynthia lying on the ground,” he said.
She was in a pool of dried blood.
Tomlinson went to his jeep to get his gun while Skeet Philipps found Mike McLelland dead inside.
“There was nothing anyone could do at that point,” Tomlinson said. “There was no reason to call 911.”
Skeet Philipps, he said, called Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes, who responded along with deputies and Texas Rangers.
Before Tomlinson testified, and even before Wirskye could give his opening statement, Dallas County Criminal District Court Judge Mike Snipes addressed defense attorney Matthew Seymour’s concern about a television show that aired on Nov. 19.
Snipes questioned each juror individually before the start of the trial because a “Criminal Minds” television episode mentioned “Eric Lyle Williams who had murdered two prosecutors in Texas.”
Snipes questioned the jurors to see if they had seen the episode, talked to anyone who saw the episode and/or seen any recent media coverage about the Williams case.
After Snipes’ questioning of the jurors, the trial began with Wirskye reading the indictment. Snipes asked Williams for his plea, and Williams said not guilty.
Wirskye then presented his opening statement in which he said he would prove beyond a reasonable doubt, because of the amount of evidence, that Williams planned and murdered the McLellands.
Wirskye told how Williams planned, after his conviction in 2012 for the theft of county property, to exact revenge on the people who prosecuted him: Hasse and McLelland.
Law enforcement, he said, built an airtight case.
“You will hear the lies,” Wirskye said. “Then you will hear [Eric Williams’] confession.”
He said Williams sent a confession about the murders via email to Kaufman County Crime Stoppers, thinking it could not be traced back to him.
Wirskye described how in pre-dawn darkness, Williams allegedly gained entry into the McLelland home.
He entered the home and cut down Cynthia McLelland with an AR-15 assault rifle, according to Wirskye.
During a later description of the gunshot wounds, jurors were shown pictures of how Cynthia McLelland suffered a shot to the top of her skull that traveled down and out her chin.
She also sustained wounds to various organs, her chest area and genitals.
Williams, he said, ended Cynthia McLelland’s life.
In his opening statement, Wirskye also described how Williams allegedly shot Mike McLelland numerous times.
“Then he stands over [Mike McLelland], pumping a torrent of lead into his body,” he said. “He fired at least 20 rounds [in the house] in under 2 minutes.
Wirskye alleges Williams’ undoing was his email, which gave law enforcement the authority to search his house and computer.
Then the Gibson Self Storage unit in Seagoville was searched in which a white Crown Victoria was found, along with weapons, including the rifle used to kill the McLellands, according to Wirskye.
“There was a treasure trove of evidence in Unit 18,” Wirskye said.
Eric Williams’ fingerprints were on the vehicle and weapons, according to Wirskye.
“Folks, the amount of evidence in this case is staggering,” Wirskye said. “You will be left with no doubt, no doubt at all he killed Mike and Cynthia.”
Besides Tomlinson, jurors heard medical examiner testimony about the McLellands’ multiple wounds as well as testimony from Texas Ranger William R. Flores; Edward Cole, who sold the Crown Victoria to Williams, who allegedly used the alias Richard Green; Barton R. Williams Jr., who was in the Texas State Guard and rented the storage unit in his name for Williams at Williams’ insistence; and Larry Mathis, who operates Gibson Self Storage.
Though people, including the victims’ family members did not see it, graphic evidence – including photos and a video of the crime scene were shown to jurors.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Gary E. Lindsley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.