David Woo / AP
At a news conference Thursday in Kaufman, Texas, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes bows his head as District Attorney Mike McLelland answers questions about the slaying.
Assistant district attorney Mark Hasse, 57, was shot to death Thursday in Kaufman, Texas.
The National Prosecutor Memorial in Columbia, S.C., lists the names of 11 prosecutors who were murdered in connection to their jobs, a testament to the rarity of such attacks.
In comparison to police officers, who suffer scores of on-duty deaths every year, prosecutors are relatively immune to deadly face-offs with criminals.
"They're not out on the street at 2 a.m. confronting people who are intoxicated, armed and violent," said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. "So when a prosecutor is killed, they are almost always premeditated attacks, which kind of raises the level of egregiousness."
The next name to be added to the monument will likely be Mark Hasse, assistant district attorney in Kaufman County, Texas, who was reportedly ambushed by one or two gunmen Thursday morning outside the courthouse where he worked. Hasse was the first DA to be murdered since Sean May, an Adams County, Colo. prosecutor, was shot outside his home in 2008.
The district attorney's association, which maintains the memorial, doesn't keep full historical records involving the killings of prosecutors; its list is almost entirely composed of murders that occurred since 1967, most of them committed by people whom the victims had put in jail or were trying to put in jail.
The only bygone case is William Foster, whose death in an epic gun battle at the Carroll County, Va., courthouse in 1912 has been recreated on stage, in books and through generations of oral retellings.
The list also does not include federal prosecutors. Dennis Boyd, who runs the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said his organization was not aware of any federal prosecutors murdered while on the job or in an attack directly linked to their work. The one possible exception is Thomas Wales, who was shot to death in his Seattle home in 2001, a crime, like May's, that has not been solved.
But the NAAUSA's lawyer, Bruce Moyer, noted that threats against federal prosecutors have been rising in recent years. Citing data provided to him by the Department of Justice, Moyer said reported threats rose from 152 in 2005 to 208 in 2010. He could not say if any of the threats resulted in physical attacks.
Authorities say they do not yet know why Hasse, who prosecuted dozens of criminal cases each year, was shot to death outside Dallas.
But it seems that sometime in the near future, his name will be etched in bronze on that small monument in South Carolina.
Such deaths "strike at the very heart of our justice system," Burns said. "The number-one duty of the government is to protect the people, and these are people who are on the front lines, along with law enforcement officers and court personnel. They go to work every day trying to protect the rest of us and bring us a sense of order via the rule of law."
He added: "While every homicide and murder is egregious, there is something more outrageous about killing someone for being engaged in such an honorable calling."
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