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November 24, 2014

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Texas shootout might be tied to slaying of Colorado prison chief

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Ed Andrieski / AP

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Denver on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, about the shooting death of Tom Clements, the executive director of the Department of Corrections. Clements was shot at his home in Monument, Colo., Tuesday night.

DECATUR, Texas — A man who could be linked to the slaying of Colorado's state prison chief is likely to die after being shot by Texas authorities following a harrowing car chase there, authorities said Thursday.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker told an afternoon press conference in Decatur that the man is still unidentified. He said the suspect is "basically legally dead," although he remains hooked to equipment for organ harvesting at a Ft. Worth hospital.

The man was stopped while driving a black Cadillac with Colorado plates that matched the description of a vehicle spotted outside the house of Colorado prisons head Tom Clements shortly before he was fatally shot Tuesday.

A deputy in Montague County, Texas, tried to pull the car over at about 11 a.m. Thursday. The driver opened fire on the deputy, wounding him, Walker said. He then led authorities on a 100-mph chase that ended when he crashed into a semi, left his car and opened fire on his pursuers.

Walker says Colorado investigators are heading to Texas to determine whether he is connected to Clements' killing. The wounded deputy was wearing a bulletproof vest and was not seriously injured, Walker added.

Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins said the man appeared to be a white man in his 30s. The man shot at Hoskins four times as the chief tried to set up a road block to halt him. He left his car after it crashed and opened fire on the authorities around him, Hoskins said.

"He wasn't planning on being taken alive," Hoskins said.

El Paso County, Colo., sheriff's investigators have been looking for a dark, late-model car, possibly a Lincoln or a Cadillac, that a neighbor spotted near Clements' home around the time of the shooting. Lt. Jeff Kramer refused to say what other clues may have been found after Clements' neighborhood was canvassed by officers.

Clements, 58, was killed as he answered the door to his home Tuesday night in Monument, a town of rolling hills and alpine trees north of Colorado Springs. His death stunned law enforcement colleagues in Colorado and Missouri, where he spent most of his career as a highly respected corrections official.

Police haven't said if they think his death was linked to his job.

Denver's KMGH-TV reported Thursday that Clements may have put a bicycle up for sale for $1,200 on Craigslist. Kramer told the station, "I can't speak to the efforts behind this tip, or the level we are giving it."

In recent weeks, Clements had requested chemicals to plan for the execution of a convict on Colorado's death row and denied a Saudi national's request to serve out the remainder of a sentence in his home country. Officials refused to say whether they were looking at those actions as possible motives.

Clements came to Colorado in 2011 after working three decades in the Missouri prison system. Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Mandi Steele said Thursday the department was ready to help in the probe if asked.

"Tom regularly commented that corrections is inherently a dangerous business, and that's all that I'll say," said Alison Morgan, a Colorado corrections spokeswoman who worked closely with Clements.

Officials in positions like Clements' get a deluge of threats, according to people who monitor their safety. But it can be hard sorting out which ones could lead to violence. A U.S. Department of Justice study found that federal prosecutors and judges received 5,250 threats between 2003 and 2008, but there were only three attacks during that time period.

The last public official killed in Colorado in the past 10 years was Sean May, a prosecutor in suburban Denver. An assailant killed May as he arrived home from work. Investigators examined May's court cases, but the case remains unsolved.

"We were looking for anybody who had a grudge against May," Jackson said.

Steven Swensen, a former U.S. marshal who runs a company that provides security advice for court personnel, said one problem is that if someone really wants to harm a person, they usually don't send a warning.

"The person who makes a threat isn't the most likely to carry out on a threat," he said.

Glenn McGovern, a senior investigator with the Santa Clara County district attorney's office in California, tracks attacks on judges, prosecutors and senior law enforcement officials worldwide. He tabulated 133 such incidents in the U.S. since 1950.

"When I was looking at these attacks, very few gave any kind of threats," he said. "When it comes up, it's out of left field."

Mike McLelland is district attorney in Kaufman County, Texas, where one of his prosecutors was gunned down in January walking to the office through the courthouse parking lot.

McLelland said the attack was a "well-executed assassination" and that investigators have had to comb through every case the lawyer, Mark Hasse, handled. McClelland is still baffled at what might have sparked the slaying.

"Nobody is excluded and everybody is included," he said of investigations like these. "They're knocking over every rock they can."

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