KENEDY, TX — On December 13, 2000, seven prisoners made a dramatic escape from the maximum security John B. Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas.
The men, who would later be nicknamed “The Texas Seven,” dominated national headlines and their plan earned comparisons to the infamous 1962 Alcatraz prison break.
They were apprehended a little more than a month later after the case was featured on America’s Most Wanted.
All of the men had been sentenced to decades behind bars.
At the time of the breakout, 30-year-old George Rivas, the reported ringleader, was serving 18 consecutive 15-to-life sentences.
Michael Anthony Rodriguez, 38, was serving a 99-to-life term for contracting the murder of his wife while Larry James Harper, 37, Joseph Garcia, 29, and Patrick Henry Murphy, Jr., 39, were all serving 50-year sentences.
Donald Keith Newbury was serving a 99-year sentence and the youngest member, Randy Halprin, 23, was serving a 30-year sentence for injury to a child.
The seven convicts planned their escape for 11:20 A.M. at lunch and “count” time, a slow period when they knew that there would be less surveillance of key locations.
They overpowered and restrained nine civilian maintenance supervisors, four correctional officers, and three uninvolved inmates by calling them over while another inmate hit them over the head.
Once each victim was knocked unconscious, the offenders removed some of his clothing, tied him up, gagged him, and placed him in an electrical room behind a locked door.
After stealing clothing, credit cards, and identification from their victims the men impersonated prison officers on the phone to avoid suspicion from authorities.
Three of the men dressed in civilian clothing and made their way to the back gate of the prison on the pretext of installing video monitors. Once there, they overpowered a guard, raided the guard tower, and stole weapons.
Meanwhile, the four remaining convicts stole a prison maintenance pick-up truck, picked up the other three men, and fled the scene in a getaway car. The white prison truck was later found in a Walmart parking lot.
When the fugitives soon ran short of funds, they robbed a Radio Shack in Pearland, Texas.
On December 19, four of the members checked into an Econo Lodge motel in the Dallas-Fort Worth area using fake names.On Christmas Eve they went into an Oshman’s Sporting Goods where they bound and gagged all the staff before stealing guns and ammunition. An off-duty employee called police, and when officer Aubrey Hawkins responded to the call, he was fatally gunned down by the group.
Hawkins’ autopsy later showed that he had sustained 11 gunshots — and was run over by the escaped convicts.
Following Officer Hawkins’s murder, a $100,000 reward was offered to whoever could snare the group of criminals – which would climb to $500,000.
After America’s Most Wanted aired on January 20, 2001, police received several calls about sighting of the suspects at the Coachlight Motel and R.V. Park in Woodland Park, Colorado.
With the heat on, the fugitives reportedly pretended to be a group of Christian missionaries. The FBI Denver SWAT team found Garcia, Rodriguez, and Rivas in the RV Park, and apprehended them at a nearby gas station. Other searchers found Halprin and Harper in an RV. Halprin surrendered, but Harper shot himself with a pistol.
On January 23, 2001, the FBI received a tip that Newbury and Murphy were hiding in a Holiday Inn in Colorado Springs. The agency made a deal allowing the two men to make live TV appearances before they were arrested.
So, in the early hours of January 24, a KKTV anchorman named Eric Singer, was taken into the hotel where he interviewed the two by telephone while on camera. Newbury and Murphy harshly denounced the criminal justice system in Texas, with Newbury stating that “the system is as corrupt as we are.”
In 2008, authorities indicted Patsy Gomez and Raul Rodriguez, the parents of Michael Rodriguez, for conspiring to help the Texas Seven by providing the getaway car.
All six surviving members of the Texas Seven were returned to Texas and sentenced to death. Rivas, Rodriguez, and Newbury have all since been executed.
Randy Halperin later said:
“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. There were a lot of weaknesses [in prison security], and mainly what we did is we capitalized on how sloppy the procedures were, as far as security.”
The remaining three members of the Texas Seven are incarcerated on Death Row at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
To learn more about this case, watch the “GOT to Be Part of the Texas Seven” episode of Investigation Discovery’s I (Almost) Got Away With It on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Joseph Garcia, Randy Halprin, Larry James Harper, Patrick Henry Murphy, Donald Keith Newbury, George Rivas and Michael Anthony Rodriguez [Now You Know – THE TEXAS SEVEN / YouTube (screenshot)]