For those sentenced to decades or life in prison, the thought of being locked up forever is inconceivable. Many would do absolutely anything to escape their life behind bars and get even the smallest taste of freedom again.
In 2000, a group of inmates were so desperate to be free that they came up with an elaborate plan to escape. However, their fleeting freedom ended up costing a brave cop his life after he tried to stop them. Now, 18 years later, justice is finally being served.
An Unusual Day
On the morning of December 13, 2000, officers at the John B. Connally Unit thought it was going to be a typical day of work. However, within a few hours, the staff at the maximum security prison near Kenedy, Texas, would learn that the day was anything but normal. And it was all thanks to a handful of determined inmates.
The Escape Plan
For the past few weeks, a group of seven prisoners had been carefully plotting a way to escape. Once every last detail of the escape was organized, the group put the plan into action. If everything went right, the inmates were set to make history in Texas.
Life in Prison
According to officials, the ringleader of the group was George Rivas. The then 30-year-old inmate had been serving 18 consecutive 15 years-to-life sentences. Rivas figured he’d never set foot beyond the walls of the prison for the rest of his life again, if he didn’t escape.
Decades in Prison
Like Rivas, the other six members of the group all faced decades behind bars. Michael Anthony Rodriguez (left), a 38-year-old who had been sent to prison after contracting the murder of his wife, was serving a 99 years-to-life sentence. Donald Keith Newbury (right) was also serving a 99-year sentence.
37-year-old Larry James Harper, 29-year-old Joseph Garcia, and 39-year-old Patrick Henry Murphy Jr. had all been sentenced to 50 years behind bars. Finally, 23-year-old Randy Halprin had been serving a 30-year sentence. He was the youngest in the group and had been jailed for injury to a child.
The Slow Period
On that Wednesday morning, at about 11:20 a.m., the group put their elaborate plan into motion. The timing was crucial for a successful escape as 11:20 is the time that lunch and “count” time begins. During this slow period in the day, there’s less surveillance in certain areas in the prison.
While lunch was starting and guards were busy counting the inmates, the group began overpowering and restraining several guards. In total, they ended up restraining four correctional officers, nine civilian maintenance supervisors, and three uninvolved inmates. The group did this by having one man call their unsuspecting target over, and having another hit the person over the head from behind.
The Next Step
While the people were unconscious, the group tied them up, removed some of their clothes, stole identification and credit cards, gagged them, and put them behind a locked door in an electrical room. The inmates then got dressed in the stolen clothes and impersonated their victims. Three members of the group then went to the back gate of the prison where they overpowered a guard, took control of a guard tower, and raided it for weapons.
Meanwhile, the other four inmates made calls to other guards to distract them. After that, they stole a prison maintenance pick-up truck, picked up the three other men, and then drove out of the prison. Once outside the prison, the group abandoned the truck and switched into a getaway car, which Michael Rodriguez’s father provided.
Hitting the Road
The group headed straight to San Antonio after escaping prison, and then drove to Pearland, Texas, which is in the Houston area. While in Pearland, the men robbed a Radio Shack. Not only were they running low on money, but they also took electronics including police radio scanners.
A Christmas Eve Robbery
While in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the group robbed a sporting goods store on December 24, 2000. After entering the store, they tied up and gagged the staff before stealing $70,000, 44 guns, and ammunition. During the heist, however, a store employee that was in the parking lot noticed what was happening inside and called the police.
The First Responder
Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins was the first to arrive at the scene. Sadly, he didn’t stand a chance on his own against the seven armed criminals. When the group noticed Hawkins outside, they opened fire on him. Hawkins was shot 11 times before the group pulled him from his car and ran him over as they fled the scene.
The Search Continues
Authorities had already been working around the clock to find the inmates. Yet after they brutally murdered a police officer, authorities became even more determined in their effort to locate the dangerous criminals. They even increased the reward for the group from $100,000 to $500,000.
For about a month, however, there was no information about the men, who seemed to be laying low. In order to apprehend the men, police had their case featured on America’s Most Wanted. They hoped that someone would have seen the group and provide them with information.
America’s Most Wanted
After the episode aired on January 20, 2001, the police finally got the information they needed. A few people claimed to have seen some of the suspects at the Coachlight Motel and R.V. Park in Woodland Park, Colorado. The FBI Denver SWAT team immediately went to search the park.
Locating the Group
Authorities found Garcia, Rodriguez, and Rivas in the park and caught them when they were at a gas station nearby. Halprin and Harper were later found in an RV on the property. Halprin ended up surrendering to the police, but Harper refused to go back to prison. Instead, he shot himself with a pistol.
Three days later on January 23, authorities received another tip that brought them to a Holiday Inn in Colorado Springs. When they raided the property, they found Newbury and Murphy, the last two members of the Texas Seven. The pair were immediately arrested and taken into custody.
All six remaining men from the Texas Seven were brought back to Texas. As punishment for their prison break and for murdering a police officer, they were all sentenced to death. In the wake of their escape and capture, however, some members of the group claimed their intention was never to hurt anyone.
A Second Chance
“I had honestly believed that maybe I was gonna get my own second chance to show that I could, you know, possibly survive in the world without being looked at as a monster, a felon, or just a criminal in general,” Halperin later said in a statement. “There were a lot of weaknesses, and mainly what we did is we capitalized on how sloppy the procedures were.”
Justice is Still Being Served
So far, Newbury, Rivas, and Rodriguez have been executed. Halprin, Murphy, and Garcia are still on Death Row in Texas, however. Garcia is scheduled to be executed on December 4, 2018. “It’s been almost 18 years,” Toby Shook, a former prosecutor in the case, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s satisfying that the actual sentence will be carried out.”