USA today Interview – John Murray by Kevin Johnson

Posted: April 21, 2013 in News and politics

John Murray

LIVINGSTON, TEXAS — When the stunning news of the murders of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, found its way into the depths of the Texas prison system last month, it prompted cheers from many housed on part of the Polunsky Unit’s solitary confinement wing.

None of those participating in the twisted celebration appeared to take any credit for the slayings or have any special knowledge about the crime. They were simply taking some satisfaction in the ugly thought that a part of the vast criminal justice network — their blood adversary — had suffered a terrible blow.

“Everybody was real happy.”

The account, provided to USA TODAY in a prison interview with John Murray, a co-founder of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang, is part of what investigators are encountering in a wide-ranging and frustrating effort to solve the McLelland slayings and the murder in January of the district attorney’s assistant, Mark Hasse. The prosecutors’ office, just outside of Dallas, had assisted federal authorities in bringing charges against 34 Aryan gang members in November.

Murray, who claims to have disavowed his affiliation with the violent group, said he provided much of the same information to state investigators who, he said, questioned him within the past week about the murders.

Law enforcement’s interest in the Aryan group and a separate white supremacist gang eyed in connection with the murder on March 19 of Tom Clements, director of the Colorado prison system, has injected an especially chilling dimension to cases that have captured national attention and spawned exhausting manhunts across the region.

Though Murray doubts that the Aryans would have authorized such a public strike and risked unwanted scrutiny, he said gang members were shaken by the indictment in November, which named some of the organization’s most prominent leaders. The indictments charged members with a range of offenses, from racketeering to murder, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Houston.

In and out of prison, the gang numbers around 2,000 members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked the group.

Murray said he provided investigators with the name of at least one former associate who talked about elevating the profile of the group before his release from prison two years ago.


Confined since 1979 after the attempted murder of a San Angelo, Texas, police officer, Murray, 57, said he was not aware of any discussions inside the prison about targeting the McLellands or Hasse before their murders.

“I’m telling you what I told them,” he said of his conversation with who he said were representatives of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Inspector General’s Office.

The inspector general’s office declined to comment, saying its interviews with inmates are generally related to criminal investigations and are confidential.

Murray’s informant role was confirmed by a former law enforcement official with direct knowledge of his past cooperation. A second source, a prison official, said the inmate is among several people authorities are targeting for interviews as part of the Kaufman County inquiry. A third source, a federal law enforcement official, said investigators have been conducting interviews both inside and outside of prison walls in pursuit of information in a case that has shaken law enforcement well beyond the suburban Dallas community where the two prosecutors were murdered. The three sources are not authorized to comment publicly on the investigation.

In the end, the federal law enforcement official said, authorities could conclude that the gang has no connection to the killings because it is only one facet of an investigation that the official has described as an “open field.”


Law enforcement officers bow their head during the memorial of Tom Clements at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.(Photo: Pool photo by Jerilee Bennett)

After Clements’ murder, believed to have been carried out by Evan Ebel, a former Colorado inmate with ties to a white supremacist group known as the 211 Crew, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered an investigation into whether prison gangs were targeting other public officials.

Though Ebel was killed in a shootout with Texas authorities days after Clements was shot to death when he answered his front door, Colorado authorities arrested another suspect — also with white supremacist ties — for questioning last week.

Investigators have found no connection between the Texas and Colorado killings, but the proximity of the killings and the victims’ law enforcement affiliations have required investigators to consider the worst: that the officials were specifically targeted.

Hasse was gunned down Jan. 31 near the county courthouse. Mike and Cynthia McLelland were found shot to death in their home March 30. No arrests have been made in either case. A $200,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the conviction of the McLellands’ killer.


Hasse’s murder was preceded by an ominous statewide bulletin issued in December by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The bulletin warned that authorities had received “credible information” that the Aryan Brotherhood was “actively planning retaliation against law enforcement officials” who helped secure the federal indictments announced in November.

Murray said the federal case “initiated a new energy” within the group that might have been enough to push some extreme members to seek retaliation “if they felt like the ‘family’ had been threatened.”

Murray, described in federal court records as a “founder” of the gang, said he was drawn to its ideology out of a need to establish order in the chaotic and predatory prison system.

Over the years, Murray said, he had become privy to orders to assault and or kill more than 30 inmates. Some efforts were successful; others were not. Claiming that he became increasingly disenchanted with the extreme prison violence in the early 1980s, Murray said he turned informant to help spare many of those targeted. In one unusual plot, Murray acknowledges rigging a radio to explode in the hands of another inmate. He said the attack, which Murray claims didn’t seriously hurt anyone, was merely an attempt to “rehabilitate” the inmate for an attack on another.

“It was a bloodbath,” Murray said, describing the period.

A former state official said Murray cooperated with authorities but disputed the extent of that cooperation.

Articulate and eager to talk, the inmate has the requisite body ink to display his gang affiliation. He urges visitors to look closely at the Aryan Brotherhood tattoo on his left forearm. He said it also shows proof of his later renouncement of the group: The word “voided” has been inked over the gang emblem.

His work as an informant, he said, has put him at risk. Murray said he has been “lucky” to survive, though much of his time is spent in solitary confinement near the state’s heavily secure Death Row unit.


These days, Murray has a special reason to discuss his claimed cooperation and his departure from the family he helped found.

His 2011 parole application was denied, but a new request is under review, according to prison records. Sentenced to life for the attempted murder in 1979, Murray said he “didn’t try to kill” the police officer. He fired at the patrol car, he said, out of anger because he believed his then-girlfriend had been “disrespected.”

Though he was convicted in an attack against a police officer, Murray said he doesn’t think his former “family” would act as a group and take such a chance as to target a law enforcement official, let alone two prosecutors.

“I have to say, most (Aryan members) are not very sharp people,” he said, adding that many are consumed with the business of drug trafficking and exacting revenge against wayward members or rival groups. “Then again, any man trained in urban engagement” could probably carry out the assault like the one that claimed the McLellands.

“If they did do that, especially killing the wife,” he said, “then I pray to God that they get them.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s