Written By: Billy Sinclair
If there ever was a man prepared to die, it was “Texas Seven” leader George Rivas. An intelligent man, Rivas masterminded one of the most spectacular escapes in the annals of American penal history. He and six other long term inmates escaped on December 13, 2000 from the John Connally Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—a facility located an hour south of San Antonio in Kenedy. They stole prison guards’ uniforms, took weapons from the prison’s armory, and drove out of the maximum security facility in a prison truck. They reportedly left behind a note saying: “You haven’t heard the last of it yet.”
While Rivas may have been able to control his fellow inmates before and during the escape, it all fell apart once they group was free. According to press reports, they robbed a Radio Shack in Pearland the day after the escape. They then decided to rob Oshman’s Sporting Goods in Irving, Texas, on Christmas Eve. They took more than $70,000 in cash, dozens of weapons, ammunition, and the wallets and jewelry of store employees.
Then the unexpected happened. An off-duty employee saw the commotion inside the store and alerted law enforcement. Police officer Aubrey Hawkins arrived on the scene. Woefully outgunned and outnumbered, the officer was shot eleven times with different weapons and ran over by a stolen SUV driven by Rivas. There was no turning back. The fate of all seven men was sealed in the blood of that police officer so needlessly killed.
The group made its way to Woodland Park, Colorado where they checked into the Coachlight Motel and RV Park owned by Wade Holder. On January 20, 2001, a friend of Holder was watching an episode of America’s Most Wanted which featured a segment on the Texas Seven. He recognized the Texas Seven as the group of men, who had presented themselves as Christian missionaries, staying in an RV at the park. The following day Holder reported this information to local law enforcement.
A police swat team went to investigate the report. They saw Rivas and two other members of the group in a Jeep Cherokee at the park. They followed the trio to a local gas station where they were arrested. The swat officers then closed in on the RV where two other members were staying. One surrendered but the other, Larry James Harper, killed himself with a single bullet into his chest. With four in custody and one dead, the police intensified their search for the remaining two escapees. These two, Donald Newbury and Patrick Murphy, were located at a Holiday Inn in Colorado Springs and surrendered peacefully after they were allowed to conduct an interview with a local television station.
All six of the remaining escapees were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Rivas’ original trial attorney, Wayne Huff, recently told the Dallas Observer that his client understood and was prepared to accept his execution from the moment of arrest in Colorado. Huff told the Observer that Rivas made himself a “poster boy for the death penalty” with his willingness to “take the blame for all his co-defendants.” In fact, as Huff pointed out, Rivas told the jury he deserved to die and was not “afraid” of the death penalty.
Like Michael Rodriquez who ultimately waived his post-conviction remedies and was executed on August 14, 2008, Rivas was equally up to the task of facing death when, on February 29, he was wheeled into the Texas death chamber at Huntsville and put down with a cocktail of lethal drugs. Before he departed this life into the next one, Rivas left this final statement:
“First of all, for the Aubrey Hawkins family, I do apologize for everything that happened. Not because I am here, but for closure in your hearts. I really believe you deserve that.
“To my wife, Cheri, I am so grateful you’re in my life. I love you so dearly.
“Thank you to my sister and dear friend, Katherine Cox, my son and my family. Friends and family, I love you so dearly.
“To my friends, all the guys on the row, you have my courtesy and respect.
“Thank you to the people involved and the courtesy of the officers. I am grateful for everything in my life. To my wife, take care of yourself, I will be waiting for you. I love you. God bless.
“I am ready to go.”
Indeed, Rivas was ready to go. He got the best deal possible from the State of Texas—an end to life. Before his escape, Rivas was serving multiple life sentences for an array of crimes. He had absolutely no hope of ever being released, and even had the jury spared him of the death penalty, he would have spent the rest of his life in a “super-max” cell because of the escape.
It’s really not hard to leave death row when there is no tomorrow. The remaining four escapees face the same inevitable fate as Rodriquez and Rivas. Lethal injection may not be a good way to leave this life, but it is certainly better than wasting away in super-max until the mercy of death finally comes one night.