death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 10

TEXAS:

Death row inmate volunteers to be executed

Michael Rodriguez is set to be the 1st of the "Texas 7" to be executed

Rodriguez and 6 others escaped from a maximum security prison in December
2000

Rodriguez, reflecting on his crimes: "I am willing to pay"

Michael Rodriguez remembers the exhilaration of newfound freedom when he
hid in the back of a stolen truck as he and six of his buddy convicts
staged one of Texas' most notorious prison breaks.

Texas death row inmate Michael Rodriguez has dropped all appeals of his
execution.

Then he recalls seeing his photo on national TV and grasping the reality
that their Hollywood-style plan to rob a Nevada casino had gone terribly
awry.

He and his fellow fugitives were being hunted everywhere as the killers of
a police officer, Aubrey Hawkins, at a store they robbed outside Dallas.

This week, Rodriguez is set to become the 1st of the 6 surviving members
of the infamous "Texas 7" — all of them now on death row — to go to the
death chamber.

"I'm glad we got caught, so no one else would get hurt," Rodriguez said,
discussing with a reporter for the 1st time his involvement in the crime
spree 8 years ago.

"It was so thrilling that we actually got away with it," he said of the
December 2000 escape from a maximum security prison. "But after Mr.
Hawkins got killed, and I saw (ABC's) Peter Jennings on the TV news with
our pictures, I thought: 'Oh my God, Oh my God. Am I in trouble!"'

After some 6 weeks of evading an intense manhunt, the fugitives were
captured in Colorado. One of the 7 killed himself as authorities closed in
on him.

"I'm glad it ended when it did. It would have been a mess."

Rodriguez, 45, said he welcomes this week's execution, set for Thursday.

"I have a lot of people here telling me how unfair the system is," he told
The Associated Press in what he said would be his 1st and last media
interview. "At some point in our lives, you have to have some sort of
accountability. I can't see how people in my situation deny that."

Rodriguez, who first went to prison with a life sentence for arranging the
1992 slaying of his wife in San Antonio, worked for more than a year to
convince the courts he was competent to drop his appeals and volunteer for
execution.

"I'm just moving forward," Rodriguez said from a small visiting cage at
the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, site of the
state's death row. "Look. I'm guilty of what they said — everything."

And he said he wants the family of his former wife, Theresa, and the
relatives the slain police officer "to know how truly sorry I am and I am
willing to pay."

"I think it's a fair sentence," he added. "I need to pay back. I can't pay
back monetarily. This is the way."

The slain police officer's wife, Lori Hawkins, calls Rodriguez's apologies
"a little too late."

Rodriguez and 6 other inmates overpowered workers at the state prison
system's Connally Unit near Kenedy in South Texas on December 13, 2000,
took the workers' clothes, grabbed guns from the prison armory and fled in
a prison truck.

"It was an experience. It's real strange to think on that and how I got
here," he said.

They drove to a nearby store, where Rodriguez's father had parked another
truck for them. Raul Rodriguez later pleaded guilty to being involved in
the escape plan.

They headed to Irving, a Dallas suburb, where ringleader George Rivas, a
convicted robber serving 18 life terms, had a plan to rob a sporting goods
store by posing as employees of its security service. They got uniforms
from a used clothing store in Houston and radios from an electronics store
holdup.

"George Rivas thought he planned everything," Rodriguez said.

While some gang members scrambled to find materials to restrain store
employees and others gathered weapons, a woman outside noticed the
activity and called police.

Hawkins caught the call. He'd been having Christmas Eve dinner with his
wife and son a few blocks away.

Patrick Murphy, a convicted rapist who was posted as a lookout, tried to
warn his fellow escapees that a police officer was driving into the
parking lot but their radios "didn't pick up real well."

Rodriguez said that when he saw the police car he hid under sleeping bags
they had stuffed with stolen guns and money.

"I just heard shots — pop, pop, pop. I thought it was the police. But no,
it was us," he said.

Afterward, he went to the police car, where the officer appeared to
already be dead.

The gang went to Colorado, were Rivas used cash from the store robbery to
buy a big RV, and even went to a police supply store, posing as a lawman,
and ordered body armor to be used in the Nevada casino heist.

On January 22, 2001, a SWAT team surrounded the gang at a trailer park
outside Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"I'd never seen anything like that in my life," Rodriguez said of the
police firepower.

Rivas, Rodriguez, Garcia and Randy Halprin were arrested. Larry James
Harper, another convicted rapist, committed suicide. Murphy and Donald
Newbury, a convicted robber, surrendered 2 days later in Colorado Springs.

He blamed the original crime that landed him in prison for life, the 1992
murder-for-hire slaying of his wife, on "the lust of a coed" he met at
what then was Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.

"My wife was a wonderful person and didn't deserve this. I fell for a
coed. It was stupid. I sit in my cell and think: How the heck did I get
here?

"But I was a willing participant. You can call it lust… I really thought
I would get off, like a lot of people who are deluded."

(source: Associated Press)