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Despite job's dangers, local DA refuses to live in fear

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 17 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 18 2013 06:22:17 PM CDT

Their job is to put away criminals, and sometimes prosecutors become targets in the process.

EASTON, Pa. -

Their job is to put away criminals, and sometimes prosecutors become targets in the process.

An unfolding case in Texas illustrates the hazards of the job.

"This is not open season on public service, not hunting season on public service," Texas authorities said.

Those are words Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he takes to heart.

"We've had prosecutions where the family members of the defendant felt they were being railroaded or something," he said.

It's a situation echoed by the case in Texas where, police said, Eric and Kim Lene Williams, a husband and wife team, killed Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, last month, and assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse in January. The couple was upset the Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace, was prosecuted for theft a year before, according to court documents.

"We've had judges be shot at courthouses in Pennsylvania, lawyers even from domestic violence," Morganelli said.

In 2005, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar mysteriously disappeared. He hasn't been heard from since.

Just a few years ago, Morganelli and his staff were put on alert after a man allegedly wrote threatening letters to them. The man, David Petko, was acquitted by a judge.

But Morganelli, a veteran D.A., said he refuses to live in fear.

"It's part of the job. I've been doing this for 20 years," Morganelli said. "Prosecutors feel the same way doing what we do. We hope people understand this and it's not a personal matter."

But as the case in Texas shows, that isn't always true. Morganelli, however, said for the most part, he and the defendants do have an understanding that the cases aren't personal but admitted you never know what someone is thinking.