Prison escape ringleader sentenced to death for killing police officer
DALLAS (AP) – The ringleader of one of the biggest prison escapes in Texas history was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing a police officer, hours after he asked to be executed because he didn’t want to live like an animal in prison.
George Rivas is the first of the seven escapees to be tried in the Dec. 24 shooting death of Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins.
Defense attorneys have been trying to get Rivas a life sentence, arguing that he never intended to murder Hawkins. But as the penalty phase wrapped up Wednesday, Rivas urged jurors to give him a death sentence.
”What you call the death penalty, I call freedom,” he said. ”I can finally be free. I’m telling you right now I don’t want another life sentence.”
Rivas spoke haltingly and emotionally about his wish to die. The testimony came a day after he said he never intended to kill Hawkins and took pains to limit bloodshed in the prison escape.
Both the prosecution and defense cited Rivas’ wish to die in closing arguments.
”Ladies and gentlemen, grant him his wish and justice will be done in this courtroom today,” prosecutor Bill Hill said.
Defense lawyer Wayne Huff said a life sentence would be worse than death for Rivas, who would be locked 23 hours a day in an isolation cell.
Before the brazen Dec. 13 escape, Rivas was serving 17 life sentences for armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from two 1993 robberies in El Paso. He also had a life sentence for a 1989 burglary.
During the escape, which touched off a national manhunt, the gang from the Connally Unit in Kenedy allegedly committed three armed robberies, including the fatal one at an Irving sporting goods store.
With $70,000 in cash and checks, 44 weapons and stolen winter clothing, the men lived for about a month in a recreational vehicle park in Woodland Park, Colo. A neighbor recognized them from broadcasts of Fox TV’s ”America’s Most Wanted” and went to authorities.
On Jan. 22, a SWAT team nabbed Rivas, Joseph Garcia and Michael Rodriguez at a convenience store. Randy Halprin gave up at the mobile home, where Larry Harper then killed himself.
Patrick Murphy and Donald Newbury, who had gone out on their own a day earlier, surrendered two days later at a motel in nearby Colorado Springs.
Dallas County prosecutors have vowed to seek the death penalty against the other convicts and accept no plea agreements.
In arguing for the death penalty, prosecutors tried to demonstrate that Rivas was an unreformable, lifelong felon who showed no mercy when he repeatedly shot Hawkins and ran over him with a vehicle.
Rivas himself confessed to the crime.
Evidently deciding they had nothing to lose, Rivas’ attorneys let him take the stand. He spoke gravely when he took full responsibility for Hawkins’ murder. He explained that he planned the getaway because ”I wasn’t going to die an old man in prison.”
Jurors found Rivas guilty of capital murder Aug. 21. They had two punishment choices: lethal injection or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole in 40 years.
Rivas’ lawyers argued he never intended to kill Hawkins, only disarm him after the officer interrupted the armed robbery.
In a written statement, Rivas said he shot Hawkins because he thought the officer was reaching for his service revolver. When others joined in the shooting, Rivas himself was shot twice by his own men.
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