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Burden of Proof

Seven Escapees from a Texas Prison on the Run

Aired December 29, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Seven escapees from a Texas prison are on the run. They're suspects in a Christmas Eve killing of a police officer, and authorities say they could kill again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY PURDUE, ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF, IRVING, TEXAS: I don't think that they are going to give up quietly, and that is why every lead that we follow we try to do with the utmost discretion, try to maintain the element of surprise.

CHIEF LOWELL CANNADAY, IRVING, TEXAS POLICE: Given the history of the kind of people that we're dealing with, the likelihood of having another serious injury or death is a very good possibility.

JOHN MCAULIFFE, TEXAS DEPT. OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: They have to sleep, they have to eat, and sooner or later we're going to be watching when the opportunity comes to apprehend them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Greta is off this week.

Investigators continue a massive manhunt today in search of seven convicts who escaped from a Texas prison. On Dec. 13, the inmates hatched an elaborate plan to break out of a maximum security prison in Kenedy, Texas. The seven escapees posed as prison workers, tied up prison employees, took their clothes and fled with an arsenal of firearms and ammunition. Left in the wake of their escape, a note with the line, quote, "you haven't heard the last of us yet."

On Christmas Eve, an Irving, Texas police officer was shot and killed while investigating a robbery at a sporting goods store. The seven wanted convicts are suspected of that shooting.

Joining us today from New York is Don Clark, former special agent for the FBI who headed the Houston division. In Washington, we have criminal profiler Clint Van Zandt. And joining us from Dallas, Texas is David Tull, an officer with the Irving Police Department. Let's go right to you, David Tull. You are investigating the killing of Officer Aubrey Hawkins during that robbery at the supporting goods store. Tell us where you are in that investigation.

DAVID TULL, IRVING, TEXAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, right now, the -- as far as any recent information today, we don't have any. The tips are still coming in. We're very thankful for that. The media is helping us immensely with that as far as keeping these pictures out in the public. We're urging people to really pay attention to them, don't just give a glancing look. These people are out amongst us. They've been out since the 13th. They've been somewhere. We just need to find them, and we need the public's help to find them.

COSSACK: Officer Tull, tell us the kind of manpower that you are putting on this search.

TULL: I think the best way to describe that is just basically a list of task forces and various agencies involved. I don't have a physical number for you. We've got -- the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a task force on this, Texas Rangers, the Department of Public Safety, of course Irving Police Department. I don't want to leave anybody out, but I believe the FBI and possibly the ATF is also, just for a lack of a better term, shadowing. They're staying up, abreast of the situation and that type thing.

So, with that many people, that many agencies involved, obviously our local departments as well -- Arlington Police went with us. We did a tactical operation the other day. Turned out not to be our suspects, but everybody involved, there's quite a few people.

COSSACK: So there's a great deal of cooperation among all police groups in the search of these seven men, right?

TULL: Definitely so. I guess the best way to say it is we've got basically an unlimited amount of resources to use for this. Anything we need, we've got available.

COSSACK: Tell us how the people of Texas in and around the area are responding. I guess there's a great deal of fear and concern.

TULL: There is. And to a certain extent, that's something I'm trying to get slowed down. We don't want people to be scared to go about their normal business. We think that awareness is the best approach, but we need to get the information out and stress the dangerous situation these people can pose to us, from what they've demonstrated. Along with that, though, that goes along with the picture. So we don't want people scared completely, but just aware to where they can get information to us.

COSSACK: Officer Tull, if in fact you -- a citizen believes that they have some information for you, how do they get in touch with you?

TULL: There's several numbers. I don't have the 1-800 number at my disposal right now, but the Irving Police Department number is 972- 721-2518. That number automatically rolls to several different phones so that it will be answered and we will get the information quickly. We urge people, do not approach these subjects. Get the information to law enforcement. Whether it's Irving or their local law enforcement agency, it will get to us. But we need to act quickly on any tip or information we get.

COSSACK: All right, thank you Officer David Tull.

Let's go now to our own Tony Clark by telephone.

Tony, tell us the facts. How did these men get out?

TONY CLARK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, authorities tell us that it was a well-planned escape. George Rivas, one of the inmate they believe is the leader of the group, that he hand-picked the six others, that they were in the maintenance department, they would pick off groups as they were coming back to lunch, twos and threes, tie them up, employees, maintenance employees, then take their clothes. And it was almost like a domino effect. They moved from one area to another area and kept capturing, subduing employees, maintenance employees and prison employees, taking their clothes, and then moving until they got to the tower, which -- at which point they were able to get additional weapons, ammunition, guard uniforms, and make their escape.

And one thing, Roger, I think is very troubling to authorities: They believe, as one prison official told me the other day, he said, I think unquestionably we know they had outside help. Someone placed cars at an escape area. Someone, he said, is helping hide these escapees right now.

COSSACK: Now, Tony, I understand that one of the reasons they believe there was outside help was because, in fact, there were cars that apparently were not -- that these men have that were not stolen cars. Is that right?

CLARK: Right. What happened, they stole some vehicles from the prison, took them to a Wal-Mart store nearby. There were other vehicles waiting for them. And then you saw the same sort of case in the Oshman's robbery Christmas Eve. They stole one of the vehicles there. It was found abandoned, but there were other vehicles -- there was nothing that was stolen there and so other vehicles were there waiting for them. And so, as I say, that's one of the things that's troubling. The authorities believe someone outside this group is helping them elude police now.

COSSACK: Tony, one -- do they have any idea who the leader of this group is and how that all worked out, how these men were chosen? Was there a selection, or do they know anything about how these seven got to together?

CLARK: Right. George Rivas, who was serving life for aggravated robbery, kidnapping out of El Paso County, they believe he is the leader of the group and that he hand-picked each one of these others for either talent or some other reason, and that's one of the bonds that is holding them together.

You know, this is very unusual, Roger, for inmates who escape from prison to stay together as a unit, a criminal unit. In fact, one official told us yesterday, the most -- called them the most formidable criminal gang he's ever experienced. And so they are operating -- continuing to operate as a gang, and that's because they believe they were hand-picked for this escape and crime spree, is what's expected.

COSSACK: And, Tony, this area is close to the border of Mexico. Do authorities believe that they went south towards Mexico or went north?

CLARK: Well, see, that was the original thought, was that they could have headed to Mexico. They alerted the Border Patrol, but that's not what happened. They instead went north to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There was a robbery of a Radio Shack early on after the escape. The authorities believe they were involved in that, that they stole communications equipment there, and then that communications equipment was used in the Oshman's robbery. They said at the sporting goods store robbery, it was obvious someone knew how the sporting goods store operated, the layout of the store, that it was well- planned out, and that they were prepared for virtually any contingency except for an officer coming up, as Officer Aubrey Hawkins did and lost his life.

COSSACK: All right, our own CNN's Tony Clark, thanks for joining us. Let's take a break.

Up next, more on the investigation of the seven escaped convicts in Texas. Where are they headed? And will they stick together? Don't go away.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Yesterday in Denver, a federal judge accepted Timothy McVeigh's plea to drop his appeals and set a prompt execution date for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch gave McVeigh until January 11 to change his mind. If no further appeal is filed, an execution date will be scheduled.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Authorities in Texas are on the hunt for seven prison escapees. The convicts have been on the run for more than two weeks. The seven men were serving time for crimes ranging from murder and rape to child abuse and robbery.

Don Clark, you used to head up the Houston office of the FBI. What would the FBI be doing now to assist and to aide and to find these seven men?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, Roger, I think you've got to consider that this is a very violent and extreme set of circumstances here, and all techniques, all avenues have to be put to play, to try and develop a strategy to capture these people. I'm sure the law enforcement people down there are considering that, and unless you know the facts and details as they know them it would be difficult to do that. But, generally speaking, if one can cut off avenues for these people, I think that's going to be part of the clue.

If you might recall, during the Ramirez case, the strategy that we used was to be all inclusive, using law enforcement agencies, using the community, and even using the press to try to keep this to the forefront out there. And therefore, we cut off the routes and the avenues for these people to go to.

Something like this may very well work in this case. I think the FBI can serve a place in other federal agencies because as large as the state of Texas is, it is clearly as mobile as our society is today that these people could go anywhere. I think I've heard before that there was a possibility, or at least there was talk that these people may go towards Mexico, just as easy as they could towards Mexico, they could go to the other avenues. And I think being able to have that national response there looking for these people may help out, Roger.

COSSACK: Clint Van Zandt, what about the notion that these men have stuck together. I think that that's a rather unusual event, in terms of prison escapes, isn't it?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, very much so, Roger. You know, what we've got to be careful of, though, is not give these seven some type of a cult-type of following. I mean, these are not "Natural Born Killers," this is not the "Magnificent 7," these are seven stone-cold, anti-social personalities, who have formed a criminal enterprise. In essence, they have stayed together because it was just like any other anti-social personality. It is what serves their needs at the current time.

What is going to happen, I think, though, is: How long can this group stay together? Eventually, their needs are going to drive them in different directions, Roger. They can stay as a cohesive group for a while, but pretty soon, one is going to want to go to Mexico, one is going to want to go to L.A., one is going to go find a former girlfriend. They are going to want to find booze, or something else. And unless a leader can really hold on to these people, really, really tight, they are going to start to fracture. And that's when law enforcement is going to swoop in on them.

COSSACK: Don, would the FBI and other investigative agencies be checking into the families of these men to see if contacts are made that way?

CLARK: Roger, I can assure you that those people are not going to leave any stones unturned, and yes, they would, without giving an advantage to them. They are going to look at every aspect.

I agree, in part, with what Clint just said is that they may very well scatter, and go on their own, but I think that's where that strategy really plays in, if that happens, because you've got the community out there, and knowing the information, and the descriptive information about, and as much information as those law enforcement entities can give down there, will help the community to be on the lookout for these people because you may very well catch one at a time, and the first one you get your hands on, may very well be the lead to the solution.

COSSACK: Clint, in the sense that they have all stayed together, are you surprised that it's been two weeks, and as far as the authorities know, they still are together?

VAN ZANDT: Well, not in a way, Roger. They had to have outside help. Somebody has provided switch cars, as you talked about earlier, somebody has provided a safe house, somebody has provided food. But, again, they've got at least six guns apiece, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, at least $10,000 apiece from the robbery of the sporting good store. What bonds them, the glue, Roger, that holds them together right now is survival. My biggest fear is that they think they are going to be folk heroes, they see themselves, you know, three of us will sleep, four of us will stay awake, but when law enforcement comes, we are going to be this squad, almost like a military squad.

Law enforcement is going to have to be very careful. And it gets back, Roger, to superiority of manpower, fire power and surprise. And, you know, Don Clark, who has run investigations like this, and the FBI, and Texas is very good at this, what we've got right now, though, is, if they in fact -- and I spoke to someone yesterday who suggested the belief is they are still together again -- they are hunkered down, they are waiting for a little bit of the heat to blow over. But for them to stay together long-term, these type of people can't do it, can't stay together past their own individual need, and that's going to change pretty quickly, I think.

COSSACK: All right, Don, knowing that what Clint said, that they can't stay together, and that you expect this group to break up, and that, as Clint says, you got to keep the heat on, what specific things would the FBI be looking for, in terms of seeing a breakup, or keeping the heat on, or not letting these people almost surface?

CLARK: Well, Roger, you've got to know as much information as you can about these individuals, you've got to know about their habits. where they go, what their thoughts are, what their weaknesses are. And I'm sure that there are people who are sitting there doing detailed studies of these individuals right now because I want to know -- I would want to know as much information as I possibly can so that I can figure out that if that break up -- if and when that break up takes place, how do we follow that pattern of seven different entities going all across the country there.

That's why I also think that it is so important that we get all of these agencies involved. And I think I heard the press person down there say earlier that there were a number of agencies involved in this because these people can start to go in various directions. And they will go to where their interest lies, and that is the type of information that all of the law enforcement needs to know, not to assume that they may just stick around Texas.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, how do investigators get a leg-up on prisoners on-the-run? Anticipating the next move of a criminal mind. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Susan Atkins, now 52 years old, was denied parole for the 10th time Thursday, 31 years after she committed what crime?

A: The slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles in 1969.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Seven escaped convicts are on the lam after breaking out of a Texas prison December 13th. What's unusual about this escape is that the seven escapees, considered armed and dangerous, have stuck together. Now it's up to investigators to figure our their next move.

David, I want to come back to you for just a moment. Earlier, we talked about the fact that perhaps these people are, or at least they are suspected of, committing another robbery at a Radio Shack to get communications equipment. What would be the purpose of the communications equipment?

TULL: My understanding on that, it was possibly our in Pearland, Texas, which is just outside of Houston, where the Radio Shack robbery occurred. The importance on that would be, obviously, from being at the store, and seeing the size of the store, having understanding of that, they had to have had some decent communication with each other, just because the size of the store, if they got separated. As far as the particular types of communications, I'm not aware of those listed out.

COSSACK: Is this the kind of thing, perhaps, they can listen to the police speak back and monitor police calls?

TULL: I think, at this point, we've got to consider that possibility. At least in my mind they had short range with each, you know personal, walkie-talkies, handi-talkies (ph), that type of thing.

COSSACK: All right, Clint Van Zandt, help us out. You have done criminal profiling. How would you profile, how would you attempt to profile these men, and predict their moves?

VAN ZANDT: Part of this, Roger, is what you have already discussed, is identifying the leader, to try to figure out the type of pressure that's going to be put on them by leadership.

Number two, just like Don suggested, we are going to find out all of their relatives, friends, brothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, former cell mates, and every one of them, every one of those individuals is going to be contacted. We will check -- as Don says, no stone unturned because what we've got to do is get in front of this group. We can't wind up running behind them from crime to crime. So, by using the FBI's nationwide assets, and the tremendous amount of investigation capability that Texas has, within the state itself, you are going to have this two-pronged approach. You are going to be pushing them with the Texas authorities, while at the same time, the FBI is covering all the leads on a national and international basis.

The interesting thing that you talked about earlier was, this was a gang, because perhaps of their language capabilities, could have fled south, could have tried to get down to Mexico. But, again, they probably figured the authorities would be looking for that, too.

So, now, where do they go? Right now probably stay in the area they know, just like a fox that's being chased, they are going to stay in some type of a den until they feel it is safe to go out again. That's what the authorities have to find, where is that den.

COSSACK: Don, does it make it any tougher that this is the large traveling season, travel season for people, New Year's coming up, we just got over Christmas, you know, many, many cars on the road, airplanes are jammed. Does that make it more difficult for law enforcement?

CLARK: Well, it clearly does, Roger. You've got more things to have to deal with out there, but that not withstanding, that should not be viewed as an obstacle because, if you really put those law enforcement resources to good work and to good use and focus them in the right direction, I think we can overcome that, and we can try to cut off those avenues again.

And, again, we cannot overlook the three-pronged strategy there, and the community is a vital link in this. And I want to stress too, as much as we call for the help of the community, not to have the community to do anything that would put themselves in danger. But there is a 911 on that cell phone, or that house phone, if they think they've got any information. And I'm sure the authorities down there are putting that out.

But that is going to be a vital link because if they know as much -- they, the community, know as much information as they can, and it can get out there to them, they might be able to identify some of these people, or at least one of them, even in this massive travel season that is upon us, Roger.

COSSACK: All right, Clint, what about the fact that this leader, this George Rivas, apparently had the ability to pick these six other people, six other men that with him, and keep it together? What, in terms of profiling him, in looking at him particularly, because obviously this is a strong personality, what do you do about that?

VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, first, you have to find out, do we have kind of a David Koresh type of personality, someone who has an element of a charismatic type of personality. So he is the person that I would take a very hard look at.

You know, one of the first crimes they committed as a gang, they went back and robbed a sporting goods store that he had robbed in the past already. So it is evident that he is saying: Follow my lead, I've been there before, I know this is going to work. So it is his brain that I would want to pick apart, and then work your way down from there again. But, still, it is going to be tremendously hard for him to keep these seven people together. They've been lock up for years anyway, now if they have locked themselves up potentially in the basement of a house, hiding from the authorities, sitting there counting their money, looking at their guns, they are going to want to move on.

COSSACK: All right, Clint, that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Stay tuned to CNN this afternoon. I'll be back, hosting "TALKBACK LIVE." As the football bowl games saturate this weekend's T.V. coverage, we pose the question: Does gambling ruin college sports? Logon, and tune-in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And Monday on BURDEN OF PROOF: Resolving legal disputes on-line. How cyberspace is impacting civil litigation. And join us then, for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. And happy New Year from our entire family here at CNN.

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