Target on my Back Cover

A Target on my Back

A Prosecutor’s Terrifying Tale of Life on a Hit List
Erleigh Wiley
Genre: True Crime
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
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Date of Publication: October 3, 2017
Number of Pages: 176 with b&w photos

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Murders don’t happen in Kaufman County, Texas, a sleepy community where people raise their kids quietly and drive into Dallas for work and entertainment. In 2013, murder came to town when two professional prosecutors were slain in cold blood, simply for doing their jobs: one in broad daylight in plain view of the courthouse, and one in his home, along with his wife. Eric Williams is responsible for all the bloodshed—and he has a list of who to kill next.

A Target on My Back is the first-person true story of Erleigh Wiley, an accomplished lawyer who accepted the job as the new district attorney—after the death of her predecessors—which turned her into the next target on the killer’s hit list. This is her story of how she and her family endured the storm of the press, the array of Homeland Security agents assigned to protect them 24/7, and the weight of knowing she was someone’s prey. Though fearing for her life, she served as the prosecution’s final witness against the murderer, sealing his fate on death row. This chilling account of how she survived the hit list is a terrifying cat and mouse tale.


“A legal thriller with a twist: a crazed lawyer and his wife, believing they have been wronged, become a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde and go on a terrifying murder spree. Next on their kill list is the new DA, and her courage in confronting the killers makes this a fascinating read.”
Dennis L. Breo, coauthor of The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation 
“John Grisham and Scott Turow had better start looking over their shoulders. . . Wiley’s engaging, nimble style immediately draws you into the action and proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s a good thing for us all that she lived to tell about it!”
David Dean, Dallas attorney, former Texas secretary of state and chair of the North Texas Crime Commission
“When murder comes to her town, Erleigh Wiley steps into the shoes of the slain district attorney and finds herself on the killer’s hit list. In A Target on My Back, Wiley tells her personal story of overcoming fear in order to carry out her duty to hold Kaufman County, Texas, together while the killer is brought to justice. Don’t miss it!”
Mike Farris, author of A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow
A Target on my Back is a unique first-person look into the world of crime-fighting in which the tables have been turned. The author takes the reader on an all-too-real journey into what it means to stand for justice when your very life is in danger. A must-read.
Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association
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Author Interview with Erleigh Wiley

Interview originally conducted by Seth Ferranti for and posted October 9, 2017.
Reposted here with permission.

VICE: I remember first hearing about the prosecutors being murdered in 2013, when I was still in prison. I even wrote a piece about the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas’s suspected role in the killings. There was some serious media hype going on—I was part of it—but you stepped right into that as the new district attorney, carrying yourself with courage under fire. How were you able to steel yourself like that?
Erleigh Wiley: Imagine people getting killed that you work with. It’s like, We’re not going to be afraid—but we didn’t know who it was. The unusual thing for me was I’m African American, so the Aryan Brotherhood—it’s like: Am I really putting a target on my back [by continuing to pursue this case]? I mean, these guys are going to be really ticked [off]. But I also thought it was a more personal [beef], particularly after [DA] Mike [McLelland] and his wife were killed. You start narrowing them down, the Aryan Brotherhood, and they’re not going to mess up their other illegal activities for a vendetta.

I’m not a cop. I’m a lawyer. But what I could do, especially since I was born and raised in this county, was to stand up. People were afraid. People stopped being out and about as much as they normally would. It was like: Something’s wrong, and we need to fix it. I wasn’t the only person that could have stepped up, but when I stepped up, it’s like: She’s OK, then maybe we’re going to be OK too. The younger prosecutors and support staff were coming to work, and they looked so beat down. I mean, they lost their boss, and they lost one of the most senior prosecutors in the office for doing their job.

VICE: How did you get so personally involved so as to become a target, and did you have reservations about revisiting such a harrowing episode in this book given you’re still on the job now?
Erleigh Wiley: The book was written for me. [Williams] was one of those twisted figures. I don’t say crazy, but twisted. I found out from the special prosecutors that he wanted to kill me, too, because as a judge, in his mind, I slighted him.
 VICE: When did you realize this was one of the more remarkable, brazen attacks on law enforcement in the country in years—not just a local saga?
Erleigh Wiley: When they were investigating after Mike and Cynthia were killed, what really put it in perspective about how dangerous things were was that we had Homeland Security in our residence. We were under guard, because they didn’t know what was coming next. Even before I was a specific target, everyone that could be a potential target—meaning any elected officials, any judges—could [have been] a target. I had ICE agents, some people had troopers, some people had local police agencies.

My kids were home, and they were in high school. Everything changed, and it was like: We’ve got to get back to normalcy. Thank God they put the suspect in custody. It was this far-reaching web—you’ve got the Aryan Brotherhood angle, and some people think it was a Mexican cartel, like maybe the border had moved up as far north as Dallas. One of the crazy things is right after Mike and Cynthia’s murder, there was an anonymous tip. [It] wasn’t a crank—it was somebody that knew. They talked about both crime scenes together in such a way that [police] knew that person knew something about it.

 VICE: That was Eric Williams, right? How surprised were you when you found out he was the killer?
Erleigh Wiley: I was surprised because you don’t really think people could go there, but he was a little odd. Lawyers can be narcissistic, but he was one of those people that [liked to think] he was super smart—he thought he knew better. He got kind of bent with me about me correcting him one time, in court. But as a judge, my job is to look out for the taxpayers. He was over-billing, and I called him on it, [and] I could just tell that he didn’t take things well when things didn’t go his way. You could see it.

[Of course,] there are a lot of people [who] don’t take things well but don’t want to kill you.
 VICE: When you were first assigned to take over in Kaufman County, what was your game plan? How did you restore a sense of order in what must have seemed almost a Gotham-esque situation ?
Erleigh Wiley: I realized my real goal was [helping] the staff—the office was floundering. People were going through Mark’s files and Mike’s file; meanwhile, we still have [other] cases. We still have crime. People were working but not [effectively]. We had to get back to a functioning office. It sounds horrible: We have to mourn, but we have to let the bad people know we’re coming for [them].

The second thing we had to do is go about the business of continuing to investigate the case and build upon the facts that led us to Williams. We couldn’t prosecute this case—it’d been turned over to special prosecutors. But we could support them.

 VICE: It’s hard not to come away from a book like this and, given the generally chaotic and violent nature of the planet right now, fall into a sense of despair. But you don’t seem to be haunted by this saga, exactly.
Erleigh Wiley: I want people to not be fearful and to understand that when things happen, you can play your part. That’s all I did. When we had all these law enforcement officers down here, people were bringing water and food to the officers and working 24/7. I only have a story because three really good people lost their lives. Two of them for doing their jobs and one for loving a man that did his. The takeaway is [just] about the people who are victims of senseless crime.
Erleigh Norville Wiley was born and raised in Kaufman County. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University, Rawls College of Business; where she received a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a degree in Finance. She attended law school at Texas Law at The University of Texas in Austin receiving her Doctorate of Jurisprudence.
In 1990, Judge Wiley joined the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. Her goal was to prosecute the criminals and protect innocent children and victims who have no voice. She was promoted to supervising attorney-training other new attorneys and managing fourteen different courts.
Wiley takes an active role in her community by volunteering. Some of her board work includes Chairman of the Kaufman County Juvenile Board, Trustee of Texas Health Resources- Kaufman, Kaufman County Children’s Advocacy Center and Kaufman County Children’s Shelter Board member.
Wiley has been lauded by various organizations for her work in the legal community as a Judge and as the Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County. Some of the most notable were in 2013, from the State Bar of Texas, Outstanding Leadership-Profiles of Courage Award and Texas District & County Attorney’s Association, Lone Star Prosecutor Award; as well as the Dallas Black Police Officer’s Association with the Paved the Way Award in 2015.

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