‘I regret it every day’: One of the last remaining members of the Texas 7 talks prison escape, pending execution

Texas Crime Stories looks back at the brazen prison escape and speaks with one of the last remaining members on death row

SAN ANTONIO – It was a chilling chapter from Texas’ past.

On Dec. 13, 2000, a daring escape from the Connally Unit in South Texas sent shockwaves through the nation as a group of dangerous criminals pulled off a daring prison break.

KSAT 12 is taking a look back at the escape, the massive manhunt, the murder of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins, and what one of the last remaining members has to say from death row.

The Escape

Located in Karnes County right off Highway 181, the John B. Connally Unit is a maximum-security prison that houses just over 2,000 inmates.

In 2000, George Rivas, Michael Anthony Rodriguez, Donald Newbury, Patrick Murphy, Larry Harper, Randy Halprin and Joseph Garcia planned the escape for months.

George Rivas was planning this for a long time. I probably became active in the planning in the last six months,” Murphy said.

Murphy is currently at the Polunsky Unit, or death row, in Livingston, Texas.

He spoke to us about the planning that went into the escape.

All seven of the men were in prison for serious crimes ranging from aggravated assault to child abuse to murder.

On the day they escaped, the men overpowered civilian employees and prison guards and stole their clothing and IDs around 11:20 a.m.

The victims were left unconscious and tied up inside an electrical room.

They were then able to subdue the guard in a watch tower and drive off in a maintenance truck. Rodriguez’s father had left behind a car outside the prison.

Massive Manhunt

The Texas 7 escaped from the Connally Unit in Kenedy Texas in Dec. 2000. (Copyright 2023 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

The search began for the seven men who had pulled off the impossible. Multiple agencies were involved in one of the largest manhunts in Texas history.

Their faces were everywhere, and the media soon dubbed them the Texas 7.

As they made their way across Texas, they ended up in Irving on Dec. 24, 2000.

The plan at first was to rob the sporting goods store Oshman’s, according to Murphy. He was sitting outside in a vehicle as a lookout and monitoring radios.

“I warned them that there was a police officer in the area, and I actually told them to get out, to leave, but they didn’t,” Murphy said.

He said he was instructed to drive away, which he said he did.

While trying to escape the store through the back door, the men encountered Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins.

All six men inside began shooting at Hawkins. He was shot 11 times and was then run over by Rivas as they fled.

The men weren’t seen or heard from for weeks until a tip in late January came in that they were seen in Colorado.

They were staying in a trailer park near Woodland Park, Colorado, near Colorado Springs.

Rivas and three others were captured there. Harper died by suicide before being captured. After a standoff, the last two were captured at a Colorado Springs hotel.

The six-week manhunt was now over. The six men that were now in custody were brought back to Texas, and each one would later be convicted of capital murder and sentenced to the death penalty.

Death Row

Four of the six men have since been executed. Two remain on death row — Randy Halprin and Patrick Murphy.

Now 62, Murphy doesn’t do many interviews after his last stay of execution. Nothing was off-limits when we spoke with him.

He said he doesn’t really like the label “the Texas 7″ but understands that’s what they were.

Murphy met the other men as six of them worked in the maintenance department.

He was initially convicted of aggravated sexual assault and had only about five years left of his sentence at the time of the escape.

“I regret it every day,” Murphy said.

He said he isn’t the same person he was before. Years ago, he converted to Buddhism and spoke in length about how it has helped him be more at peace and calls his past a “bad period of time.”

On March 28, 2019, Murphy fully expected that to be his last day alive as he was scheduled to be executed.

“At the time, I was probably as prepared as I could have been,” Murphy said. “Emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to take that step into my next life.”

Murphy, at the time, had requested a Buddhist spiritual leader to be present inside the execution room. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied his request. His attorney filed an appeal, arguing Murphy’s religious rights were violated.

Already in Huntsville, Murphy had his last meal, made his last phone calls and was awaiting to be walked over and strapped to the gurney.

The execution was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., but the hours started going by, and nobody came to get him.

“I spent four hours looking into the valley of the shadow of death, and I stepped back from it,” Murphy said.

Eventually, the assistant warden came in to tell him a stay of execution had been granted.

“I was really very shocked,” Murphy said. “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to act. It was like I was relieved, but at the same time, I was kind of disappointed.”

Eight months later, another execution date was given, but again, it was halted. A U.S. District Judge ruled that Murphy had demonstrated valid concerns about TDCJ’s execution policy.

Almost five years later, Murphy hasn’t been given a new date but believes it could still happen.

“I’m pretty much of the opinion that if I do get a third date, it probably would be the one,” Murphy said.

He doesn’t deny his crimes but doesn’t believe he should have been given the death penalty as he didn’t take part in Hawkins’ murder.

In Texas, the law of parties makes him an automatic accomplice, and because of that, he got the same conviction as the others. Regardless, as a Buddhist, he says he seeks peace and acceptance.

“We did this. Let’s move on,” Murphy said. “As a Buddhist, we try to do something better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

About the Authors

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.

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