The Daring Escape of the
George Rivas, 30, is, without question, a career criminal. Highly intelligent with a larger than life ego, it is little wonder that he plotted the Connally Unit breakout and appointed himself ringleader of the Texas 7. When it comes time for him to leave this world, an appropriate epitaph might read, "Guilty of crimes against humanity, and guilty of a wasted life."
Born in El Paso, Texas, on May 6, 1970, the six foot, 231 pound brown-haired, brown-eyed criminal with rugged good looks and a soft-spoken voice, could have been just about anything he wanted to make of himself had it not been for his lust for cash.
Rivas, described by a former classmate as a "Beavis and Butthead kind of guy," had aspirations of becoming a policeman before he turned to a life of crime, and spoke of his dream often. But he would never become a cop. Raised by his grandmother and grandfather after his parents divorced when he was 6, Rivas cruised through high school without attracting a lot of attention. Having a fascination with guns, he named his two dogs Ruger and Baretta, and began thinking about a life of crime.
Characterized as intelligent, well spoken and friendly, Rivas did not get into trouble with the law until shortly after graduating from Ysleta High School in 1988 where, according to a high school spokesman, he was identified as a quiet guy who did not participate in any school activities. He committed his first robbery and burglary the following year, but since he had no prior criminal record he was sentenced to probation for 10 years.
While on probation, Rivas enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso where he signed up as a general studies major in the fall of 1992. After three semesters, unable to shake his criminal bent and lust for cash, he dropped out in the spring of 1993 and embarked on a short-lived criminal career that would land him in prison. There were striking similarities to his crimes that tied him to a string of robberies in El Paso that could be seen in his modus operandi of the prison breakout and the robbery of the Radio Shack in Pearland, as well as to a string of holdups, at least a dozen, that he was suspected of committing in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
One of the robberies he was suspected of committing occurred on October 3, 1992, at a Radio Shack in El Paso. According to a police report, he was suspected of handcuffing a salesman and then robbing the store of cash, two-way radios, as well as other merchandise.
Less than three weeks later, on October 23, he was suspected of entering a Checker Auto Parts store under the guise of buying a car battery when he pulled a gun on a salesman. He was accused of forcing the salesman to remove his uniform shirt, after which he handcuffed him and forced him into the restroom. He then put on the uniform shirt and forced the store's assistant manager to open the safe, of which he cleaned out all the cash on hand.
Barely two weeks after the auto parts store robbery, Rivas walked into an El Paso Oshman's sporting goods store near closing time under the guise of looking at ski boots. He went so far as to ask the assistant manager to keep the store open a bit longer so that he could purchase a pair of the boots, and explained that he was waiting for a friend to bring his wallet to him. When he was satisfied that he had the assistant manager's cooperation, he pulled out a gun and ordered him to call all of the employees together.
"I'm with store security," Rivas told the employees as they arrived one by one. After he had gathered everyone together, he pulled out his gun and announced, "This is a robbery." He then called an accomplice on a two-way radio, took a uniform shirt from an employee and put it on so that he wouldn't unduly stand out just in case someone unexpectedly came in, such as the police, and he and his accomplice handcuffed all of the employees except one to a heavy ski grinding machine. Afterward, Rivas forced the store's manager to empty the safe for him. He took all of the cash, $5095, as well as 58 guns. He didn't touch anything during the robbery, but instead forced the employee to pick up and pack the items that he wanted to steal.
"I've written down all of your license plate numbers and can find out where you live if anyone tries to identify us," Rivas said as he and his accomplice left the store. He also said that he would return and kill them if anyone called the police.
The employees waited about twenty minutes after Rivas and his accomplice left the store. They then dragged the ski grinding machine to a phone and called the police, after which they dragged the machine back to its original location out of fear that Rivas might return and find out what they had done.
Rivas's next known robbery occurred on May 12, 1993, when Rivas, donning a blond wig and brandishing a gun, went inside a Furr's grocery store in El Paso and forced all of the employees into a back room. He took all of the cash that he could locate.
On May 25, 1993, Rivas and an accomplice disguised themselves as security guards and walked into a Toys 'R' Us store. After rounding up eight employees, Rivas and his accomplice robbed the store. Although his previous robberies had been carried out with military-like precision, in this case he somehow missed one of the employees who escaped and called the police. When the police arrived, Rivas and his accomplice held them at bay for more than three hours by using the employees as hostages. However, a SWAT team was called in when the police officers realized that they weren't going to get anywhere. The SWAT team stormed the store and found Rivas, wearing a blond wig, hiding in an air conditioning duct. They also recovered some of the guns that had been stolen from the Oshman's sporting goods store robbery earlier. Although his arrest ended the string of local robberies, he was still suspected of committing the numerous robberies in other parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
Following his arrest, numerous employees from the various stores that he had robbed positively identified Rivas as the perpetrator. At his trial, he claimed that he was having dinner with his wife during the Oshman's robbery and had been mistakenly identified. The jury didn't buy his claims of mistaken identity in that case, or any of the others, and he was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated armed robbery, aggravated kidnapping, and burglary under various theories of law.
Dr. Richard Coons, a court-appointed Austin psychiatrist, examined Rivas prior to his trial. Despite the fact that nobody had been injured during the commission of any of Rivas's crimes, Coons opinion was that had only been a matter of luck and not because of Rivas's kindness.
"He demonstrates an unusual degree of interest, creativity and intensity in his craft," Coons said. "He is confident and arrogant. He is a mastermind and a leader. He has no conscience, and he does not speak the truth."
Rivas was sentenced to 18 life terms in prison, 17 of which were ordered to run consecutively. The judge wanted to make certain that he never left prison, alive.
Following Rivas's escape from the Connally Unit, Dr. Coons was contacted by members of the news media and related that when Rivas and his cohorts were found and confronted by the police, the confrontation would likely turn deadly.