Two members of the notorious "Texas 7" prison-break gang moved a step closer to execution for killing a Dallas-area police officer after a federal court rejected their appeals.
The gang engineered the biggest prison escape in Texas history, overpowering workers at a prison in Kenedy, about 60 miles south of San Antonio, in December 2000. They stole the workers' clothes, broke into the prison armory to get guns and drove away in a prison truck. They robbed two Houston-area stores and then, on Christmas Eve, shot an Irving police officer when he interrupted their robbery of a sporting goods store in the Dallas suburb.
The group was caught a month later in Colorado, where one member killed himself. The six others went to Texas death row after separate trials in Dallas.
George Rivas, 41, who masterminded the prison break, and Donald Newbury, 39, had separate appeals turned down this week by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rivas' reasons for appeal included claims his trial lawyers were ineffective, the trial judge mistakenly allowed expert testimony during sentencing and that there were problems with instructions given to his jury. Newbury said his trial attorneys were deficient and there were problems in jury selection. He also raised constitutional questions about the Texas death penalty statute.
A three-member panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court refused Thursday to allow any of the claims to move forward, effectively rejecting them. Attorneys could ask for a review by the full court or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jamille Bradfield, spokeswoman for the Dallas District Attorney's office, said Friday that "we will follow the necessary procedures to carry out the sentences" in response to a question about whether the office would seek an execution date. She provided no timetable.
Attorneys for the two inmates did not immediately respond Friday to messages left by The Associated Press.
The men were sentenced to death for killing Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins, 29, who had been on the force for just over a year. Hawkins was shot 11 times. The fugitives stole $70,000 in cash from the store, along with 44 firearms and ammunition, winter clothing, jewelry and wallets from employees who were in the process of closing up for the evening.
Rivas was among three arrested at a convenience store near a trailer park in Woodland Park, Colo. Newbury and another fugitive were arrested at a Colorado Springs, Colo., motel. The two remaining escapees were in a motor home at the trailer park. One of them, Larry Harper, killed himself rather than surrender.
The escapees told park operators they were Christian missionaries from Texas, but a neighbor at the RV park called police after seeing the case profiled on Fox's recently canceled television show, "America's Most Wanted."
Michael Rodriguez, whose father was convicted of helping the escapees by leaving a getaway vehicle near the prison, was executed three years ago for his role in Hawkins' death. Rodriguez volunteered for lethal injection, while the remaining five have been appealing their convictions.
Rivas planned the prison break while serving a life sentence for 13 counts of aggravated kidnapping, four counts of aggravated robbery and one of burglary. At his trial, Rivas took full responsibility for the fatal shooting but said he never intended to kill the officer.
Newbury has said he regretted Hawkins' death but didn't regret breaking out of prison. He was serving 99 years for aggravated robbery.
Appeals for Patrick Murphy Jr., Joseph Garcia and Randy Halprin are still pending. Murphy, 49, was serving 50 years for aggravated sexual assault. Garcia, 39, had a 50-year-sentence for murder, and Halprin, 33, was serving 30 years for injury to a child.
Rodriguez, executed in August 2008 at age 45, received a life term for arranging his wife's murder.