The investigators, support staff, and prosecutors who tried the capital murder case against Eric Williams, who killed three people in Kaufman County in 2013 (including two county prosecutors) and was sentenced to death, were honored at a ceremony in Dallas in January.
The Lone Star Prosecutor Award recognizes prosecutors and prosecutor office personnel whose tireless work “in the trenches” advances justice in their communities. In honoring the prosecution team in the case State of Texas v. Eric Williams, TDCAA lauded those who spent many months securing justice and ended a very dark time for Texas prosecutors and staffs.
“TDCAA’s Board of Directors and our Nominations Committee were proud to recognize the efforts of the lead lawyers, Bill Wirskye and Toby Shook,” says Rob Kepple, TDCAA Executive Director, “but at Bill and Toby’s insistence, we recognized the entire team who worked on the capital murder case of Eric Williams. This year’s award acknowledges that a successful prosecution is the work of three vital parts of a prosecutor office: the attorneys, investigators, and support staff. It took a team of 12 to secure justice for the murders of Mark Hasse, Mike McClelland, and Cynthia McClelland.”
“It was just a massive undertaking,” explains Wirskye, now a prosecutor in Collin County. “We had almost 25 terabytes of information collected during the investigation, and there’s no way to house, digest, and get that out for discovery without a huge team behind you. That’s why so many people stepped up and helped us, why so many people played such a valuable role. The whole case exemplified the best in Texas prosecution where everybody pitches in and we help one another.”
Collaborating as a team is something Mr. Shook appreciates (and misses). Once a longtime felony prosecutor in Dallas County—and the only two-time winner of the Lone Star Prosecutor Award—he’s been in private practice at Shook & Gunter for nearly a decade. “What I enjoyed about the Williams case was having the team effort in the prosecution,” he says. “That’s something I miss from the DA’s office. When you’re in private practice, the most collaboration you get is with one other attorney. But in this case it was a team effort, and working with a team of professionals is satisfying and a lot of fun.”
Both Wirskye and Shook say they are especially grateful to receive this award because it comes from their peers, from people who know how much work goes into a death-penalty case and who recognize how important this particular trial was because a murderer was targeting those in the criminal justice system.
“I was surprised and humbled by it,” Shook admits.
“It’s meaningful coming from TDCAA,” Wirskye says, “because TDCAA members know how hard this type of trial is, how hard it is being gone from our families, and how important it was to the profession that we get it right.”
Caption for the photo below: Pictured at left are (back row, left to right) John Rolater, chief appellate prosecutor in Collin County; Rob Kepple, TDCAA’s Executive Director; Danny Nutt, investigator in the Tarrant County DA’s Office; Rhona Wedderien, trial art coordinator in Tarrant County; and Bill Wirskye, special prosecutor and current prosecutor in Collin County; (front row, left to right) Damita Sangermano, prosecutor in Rockwall County; Kenda Culpepper, criminal district attorney in Rockwall County, to whose jurisdiction the trial was moved because of publicity; Jerri Sims, assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas and former prosecutor in Dallas County; Toby Shook, special prosecutor and former prosecutor in Dallas County; Erleigh Wiley, criminal district attorney in Kaufman County and award presenter; Tom D’Amore, former prosecutor in Dallas County; and Miles Brissette, former prosecutor in Tarrant County. Not pictured are Mark Porter, investigator in the Tarrant County DA’s Office, and Lisa Smith, appellate prosecutor in Dallas County.