HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The leader of the fugitive gang known as the "Texas 7" was executed Wednesday for killing a suburban Dallas police officer during a robbery 11 years ago after organizing and pulling off Texas' biggest prison break.
George Rivas, 41, from El Paso, received lethal injection for gunning down Aubrey Hawkins, a 29-year-old Irving police officer who interrupted the gang's holdup of a sporting goods store on Christmas Eve in 2000. The seven inmates had fled a South Texas prison about two weeks earlier.
The gang was caught in Colorado about a month after the officer's death. One committed suicide rather than be arrested. Rivas and five others with lengthy sentences who bolted with him were returned to Texas where they separately were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die.
Rivas became the second of the group executed.
"I do apologize for everything that happened. Not because I'm here, but for closure in your hearts," Rivas said Wednesday evening in a statement intended for Hawkins' family. "I really do believe you deserve that."
The slain officer's relatives were absent, but four officers who worked with him and the district attorney who prosecuted the case attended on his family's behalf. They stood in the death chamber watching through a window just a few feet from Rivas.
The inmate thanked his friends who were watching through another window and said he loved them. A Canadian woman whom Rivas recently married by proxy, also looked on.
"I am grateful for everything in my life," Rivas said. "To my wife, I will be waiting for you."
Ten minutes later, at 6:22 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.
More than two dozen police officers in uniforms stood quietly in a line outside the Huntsville prison during the execution, then walked in unison to stand behind the state criminal justice spokesman as he announced Rivas' death.
Texas' parole board voted 7-0 this week to reject a clemency petition for Rivas. No 11th-hour appeals were made to try to head off the execution, the second this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Rivas and accomplices he handpicked for the escape broke out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Connally Unit, about an hour south of San Antonio, on Dec. 13, 2000. They overpowered workers, stole their clothes, broke into the prison armory for weapons and drove off in a prison truck.
They left behind an ominous note: "You haven't heard the last of us yet."
While out of prison, they supported themselves by committing robberies.
Hawkins was shot 11 times and run over with a stolen SUV driven by Rivas as the gang held up a sporting goods store closing on the holiday eve. They drove off with loot that included $70,000 in cash, 44 firearms and ammunition for the guns.
They were arrested a month later in Colorado, ending a six-week nationwide manhunt. One of the fugitives, Larry Harper, committed suicide as officers closed in.
In 2008, accomplice Michael Rodriguez, 45, who at the time of the breakout had a life term for arranging the slaying of his wife, ordered his appeals dropped and was executed. The four others remain on death row awaiting the outcome of court appeals.
"Today is not about George Rivas," said Toby Shook, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Rivas and the others for Hawkins' death. "Today is about justice for Aubrey Hawkins and Aubrey's fellow police officers."
Rivas planned the escape while serving 17 life sentences for aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery and another life sentence for burglary.
One of his trial lawyers, Wayne Huff, has said Rivas picked accomplices for the breakout "who probably were more dangerous than he was" and failed to consider they might get caught doing robberies.
"When that cop pulled up, no one knew what to do," Huff said, calling the officer's slaying "just a tragic situation."
Rivas and two other members of the fugitive gang were arrested at a convenience store near a trailer park in Woodland Park, Colo. Two others were in a motor home at the trailer park, where Harper shot himself to death. The last two were apprehended at a motel in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The men had told the people who ran the RV park they were Christian missionaries from Texas, but a neighbor recognized them as the case was profiled on the "America's Most Wanted" TV show and called police.
The four "Texas 7" members still awaiting execution are Patrick Murphy Jr. 49; Joseph Garcia, 40; Randy Halprin, 34; and Donald Newbury, 49. Newbury was set for injection in early February but was spared, at least temporarily, by a U.S. Supreme Court order.