The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Cops, courts and fires

April 2, 2013

Local judges, prosecutors react to Texas murders

Happe: Safety always part of training

ANDERSON, Ind. — “We have to give bad news to bad people. And a lot of times, they’re not happy about that.”

That’s how Madison County Circuit Judge David Happe summed up the relationship between judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and people being processed by the justice system.

It’s a relationship that can lead to tragedies like the one in Kaufman County, Texas. In the past two months, two prosecuting attorneys have been killed, the second coming this past weekend. District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found dead in their home on Saturday. The killings have unsettled the north Texas community and made officials from courts across the country, including Madison County, question their own safety.

Happe said judges and attorneys regularly attend conferences and receive training on how to keep themselves safe and how to deal with suspects and convicts during legal proceedings. While they’re trained to deal with it, the prospect of danger is always in the back of their minds, Happe said.

Surprisingly, defense attorneys and public defenders who work with suspects are usually the most at risk for reprisal, Happe said.

“It doesn’t make much sense, but defendants want their attorneys to be in their corner. If they fall short of that, a lot of people are unhappy,” Happe said.

That happened in Anderson in 2008 when a man abducted his attorney at knifepoint. Richard Hudson, who was serving a conviction for domestic battery, kidnapped lawyer Tom Hamer when Hamer received permission from a court to transport Hudson to Indianapolis for a Social Security hearing. Hudson held a steak knife near Hamer’s face and told the attorney he wasn’t going back to jail.

The situation was resolved and Hudson was eventually captured. But the peril of prosecuting and sentencing dangerous people can often extend to family members, as it did in Texas.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said his concern has always been more for his family than for himself. Cummings, who started his career as a police officer, said he’s well-versed in safety and is prepared for the hazards of his job.

“But I worry for my children,” Cummings said. “Especially when they were younger and growing up. It’s something I always have to be concerned with.”

Deputy prosecutor Steve Koester, who builds cases against major criminal felons, said he doesn’t really have time to be afraid.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Koester said. “But it can’t keep you from doing your job.”

Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.

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