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CNN Today

Report Says Texas Escapees Broke Out Due to Officer Failure

Aired January 9, 2001 - 1:40 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Fingers are pointing in all directions in the case of those maximum security prison escapees from south Texas. An internal report says the group was able to sneak out of the Connally Unit on December 13th largely because one officer failed to do his job.

CNN's Charles Zewe joins us from Garland, Texas.

What's new, Charles?

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, that charge came from Mac Stringfellow. He's the chairman of the Texas board of criminal justice -- Stringfellow being quoted in a Houston newspaper today as saying that what happened at the Connally Unit down in Kennedy, Texas, in south Texas, on December 13th, was is that these inmates, these seven inmates who were on this so-called lunch break, one of them disguised himself as a civilian worker in the prison, approached one of the prison's guard -- guards, one of the correction officers in a guard tower and the guard failed to check his identification, took him for a civilian worker, and that set in motion the sequence of events in which the guard was taken hostage and taken over for a short time, several other people held hostage, and the entire escape plan was put into effect and they got out.

Last time these prisoners were seen was on Christmas Eve, when they allegedly murdered an Irving, Texas, police officer in the robbery of a sporting goods store in Irving, making off with $70,000 and dozens of weapons. There have been numerous sightings, dozens and dozens of sightings, in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and across the country, but the FBI and Texas state troopers are saying there have not -- there's not been one confirmed sighting in all of these hundreds and hundreds of calls that they've gotten since the people broke out of jail on December the 13th.

They've described them as extremely dangerous. The reward continues to build: It's at $200,000 and growing because the Irving police have opened up a separate bank account that the public from both here in Texas and from around the country can contribute to, in hopes of building that reward as large as possible to entice someone -- someone who may be helping these inmates stay on the loose. And that's what authorities think, that they're getting outside help in remaining free -- or someone who may know something that may lead police to capture them in the end. They continue to press the manhunt, most of the leads continue to come from here, in north central Texas, in the immediate area around Dallas, and police still, as of today, believe this is the area where it's most likely they are holed up, all together, all still very dangerous -- Lou.

WATERS: Charles, I talked to Mr. Stringfellow yesterday, and although in our lead to you we classified these fellows as maximum security prison escapees, they were labeled, according to the memo that Mr. Stringfellow got, as minimum security prisoners because of their good past behavior, and there wasn't enough -- there wasn't enough security around them.

ZEWE: Well, they're not death row inmates. There were two who were serving terms for committing murder, there were two who were rapists, there was one a kidnaper, one a child abuser, and one a robber. They were not among the elite of the most dangerous prisoners in Texas, but yet they were considered by prison officials to -- or at least they should have been handled differently.

And Stringfellow and others are accusing the prison down there in Connally and prison officials of being lax in their security procedures. Stringfellow and some former Texas Board of Criminal Justice members are saying that had the security procedures been followed, there was no way this escape could have taken place.

And Texas, after all, has a pretty good record in terms of escapees: With over 150,000 inmates, there have only been two or three successful escape attempts in recent years.

WATERS: I guess the point being it would be pretty hard to point finger at just one guard in all of this.

But we'll wait until Thursday, until we get more specifics, and we'll be checking back with you, Charles Zewe, in Garland, Texas.

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