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 7 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
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
Mick Mickelsen, a Dallas attorney representing Rivas, said he has represented
several death row inmates and had 2 clients executed. "They were not as calm as
Rivas," he said, adding that Rivas has told him he sees his execution as "his
"People may find that hard to believe, but people of faith can do terrible
"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 6 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
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 7
years and 7 months in prison.
After a coordinated plan, conceived and led by Rivas, the 7 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 3 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
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 1st
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
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 2 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 7 men were just a day or 2 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 2 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 2 were cornered at a hotel and eventually surrendered.
All 6 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 7 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 % 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
"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.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)