Escapee who killed Irving officer in 2000 is ready to die Posted Sunday, Feb. 26, 20121 BY DARREN BARBEE email@example.com
In 2001, after Texas Seven escapee George Rivas was captured in Colorado, Star-Telegram reporter Darren Barbee got an exclusive jailhouse interview with him. This month, Rivas said he would talk only to Barbee about his pending execution.
LIVINGSTON -- In the months leading up to his 2000 escape from a South Texas prison, George Rivas had made up his mind that he would gain his freedom or die trying.
Roughly 11 years later, the mastermind of one of the most daring prison escapes in Texas history is just days from execution. His attorney has told him that his appeals are exhausted and that a reprieve, unlikely for a cop killer, could come only through clemency.
Yet the leader of the Texas Seven escapees said he is at comfort with the finality that will come Wednesday. In a way, it is his final escape.
"It's bittersweet," Rivas told the Star-Telegram. "Bitter because I hurt for my family, for them. Sweet because it's almost over."
Rivas organized the Dec. 13, 2000, escape of the seven inmates, including a rapist, murderers and robbers, who fascinated and terrified the state and nation as they eluded authorities.
On Christmas Eve, the convicts, dressed as security guards, robbed an Irving sporting goods store when police officer Aubrey Hawkins confronted them. Rivas has said he shot Hawkins repeatedly, including three times while Hawkins had his hands up. The 29-year-old officer died a few hours later. The murder spurred a nationwide manhunt for Rivas and his fellow escapees.
Rivas says he feels guilt for his actions and doesn't back away from comments he made years ago that he deserves to die for his crime. But he says he knows that many refuse to believe the remorse of a man who has admittedly lied before to save himself.
With the clock ticking down, he says he has little reason left to lie.
Rivas is being kept at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, a mostly wooded area about 40 miles east of Huntsville, with hundreds of others on Death Row. Dressed in white prison garb, Rivas, 41, is heavier than he was 11 years ago. His hair is no longer dyed blond, he no longer wears glasses, and he is cleanshaven.
As a former escapee, he is under some of the prison's most restrictive conditions, but he said he has no plans for another breakout. Instead, during an interview, he was reflective. While his faith now sustains him, he said, he also lives with a gnawing self-reproach for his crimes. Rivas said he thinks often of Hawkins -- especially each anniversary of his bloody death. On Christmas Day, too, he knows there's a son without a father because of him. Hawkins was married and the father of a 9-year-old son when he was murdered.
Of Rivas' many regrets, he said, one is that "I didn't find Christ sooner."
Rivas said the prison walls have a way of replaying the wrong decisions he has made in his life, the "reruns of what could have been." He could have gone into the military or even law enforcement.
Instead, his fate is to die a killer.
But he has a favorite passage from the Book of Luke, Chapter 23. In it, Christ promises a criminal being crucified alongside him that even he will be in paradise.
Mick Mickelsen, a Dallas attorney representing Rivas, said he has represented several Death Row inmates and had two clients executed. "They were not as calm as Rivas," he said, adding that Rivas has told him he sees his execution as "his parole."
"People may find that hard to believe, but people of faith can do terrible things.
"George is a strong-minded person. He's more intelligent than most people I have represented on Death Row. He's always struggled with being imprisoned. Obviously, that's what led to that desperate escape."
Hawkins' widow, who has remarried, could not be reached for comment. Irving police declined to discuss the case or Rivas' execution.
Robbing and killing
Rivas was a career criminal when he broke out of prison with six other inmates, men he says he chose because he believed they had changed and weren't likely to hurt anyone, though the escape was predicated on subduing guards and others through violence.
Rivas wanted more than anything to be free from prison and the life sentences for aggravated kidnapping and burglary that resulted after the last of his meticulously planned robberies went bad in 1993.
By the time he escaped from the Connally Unit near Kenedy, he had served seven years and seven months in prison.
After a coordinated plan, conceived and led by Rivas, the seven inmates overcame guards and gained access to the prison armory before speeding away as free men in a prison vehicle. The farther Rivas got from the prison, the less dread he felt, until he was finally in a state of elation.
He imagines it was what a bird feels like when it is "let out of a cage after years and years."
"I felt like I was floating," he said.
Rivas, ever a planner, had still another plot after the escape: to commit more robberies, steal money, gain fake identification and split from the others.
Rivas' plot to rob an Irving store was similar to many of the robberies that had sent him to prison: At closing time, escapees pulled guns and subdued the staff. Rivas and his accomplices took dozens of guns and tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
The convicts were ready to leave when Hawkins drove up in his squad car behind the store to investigate.
Rivas says he went for his gun when the officer appeared to reach for his. He and some other escapees fired. Hawkins was riddled with bullets, hit 11 times, with three of the wounds serious enough to be fatal. Then, the escapees pulled Hawkins from his vehicle and ran over him in a Ford Explorer stolen from a store employee.
Rivas, who was wounded in the shootout, was driving the SUV.
"I actually did not know I had run him over," Rivas said, contending that he thought he had run over a duffel bag.
He also said he had never hurt anyone in his previous crimes. It was the first time "that I had actually used a weapon on a person," he said.
Rivas' gunshot wound caused him to lose a lot of blood. His fellow escapees bandaged him.
On Christmas morning, while watching newscasts, he learned that the police officer was dead, he said. He immediately told the others that they were leaving for Colorado.
"I knew we had to leave Texas. I knew if they caught us they would have killed us before talking to us," he said.
They drove through a snowstorm, not discussing what had happened. "It was a sore subject," said Rivas, who said two convicts "didn't do their job" and were late leaving the store, leading to the confrontation.
'Only about the money'
As the manhunt was on, the escapees set up in an RV park in Woodland Park, Colo., pretending to be missionaries.
When authorities finally caught up with him through a tip, Rivas had made plans to move on. The seven men were just a day or two from splitting up, he said, and he was arranging fake IDs for them. Rivas said he planned to leave his life of crime and work as a butcher in a restaurant.
Police swarmed a vehicle he was in with two fellow escapees. Cornered, Rivas said, he nearly made a run for it despite the guns trained on him. But he said he knew the other men in the vehicle weren't "ready for that."
Another escapee, still at the RV park, committed suicide and one other surrendered. The final two were cornered at a hotel and eventually surrendered.
All six surviving escapees were sentenced to death. Michael Rodriguez dropped all appeals and volunteered for lethal injection. He was executed in August 2008. Donald Newbury was set to die Feb. 1 but received a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The day Rivas was sentenced to death in August 2001, Hawkins' widow, Lori, lashed out at him for his stone-faced response.
"You sit there with no remorse on your face, and I can't take it. You make me sick," she said.
"The day that you die, I am going to be there to watch you die just like you watched Aubrey die."
In his last comments on the stand, he said he deserved to die.
In his years in prison, his notoriety as the leader of the Texas Seven has continued to fascinate some.
Some websites have defended him, calling into question harsh sentences he had received for robberies with no physical violence.
Rivas says 99 percent of the websites' content is wrong.
Still others, such as a psychologist who interviewed him, said Rivas wanted to be a notorious outlaw, akin to a Dillinger.
Rivas said that also isn't true. He said that he kept a low profile during his robberies in El Paso and that his motivation, from growing up poor, was to get money.
"It was only about the money. I've never been interested in being [another] Dillinger," he said.
Yet Rivas showed a fascination with guns, even naming his dogs Ruger and Beretta. And during the Irving robbery, Rivas threatened to kill a man if he resisted, according to the Texas attorney general.
"I take no pride in none of my crimes," he said, his eyes unwavering. "Someone like me had to lose everything to appreciate anything."
As for the value of his life, "The truth of the matter is, have I helped anyone?" he said.
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