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CNN Today

Texas Prison Escapees Continue to Elude Capture

Aired January 9, 2001 - 4:37 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get an update now on those seven inmates who escaped from a maximum-security prison in South Texas. A state report due out on Thursday indicates security lapses may have set the stage for the breakout.

CNN's Charles Zewe is covering this story, still developing in Garland, Texas, and joins us now -- Charles.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, it has been another day of searching, but so far -- at least as far as we're being told -- no leads on where those seven fugitive escapees are. Authorities still believe they are in somewhere in North Central Texas, somewhere, perhaps in the Dallas metro area where they were last seen on Christmas Eve, when they allegedly gunned down an Irvin, Texas policeman in the process of robbing a sporting-goods store of lots of weapons and $70,000 in cash.

More than 1,200 phone tips have been called into a command center here in Garland, Texas. The police are tediously going about the process of checking out all of those leads. So far, they say there has been no -- underscore "no" -- confirmed sightings of the seven escapees since they were seen at that Oshman's Sporting Goods store in Irvin on Christmas Eve.

There have, however, been reported sightings of them not only throughout the state of Texas, but in neighboring states of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana. To repeat, though, none of those sightings have been confirmed. Police still think they are together, hunkered down somewhere in this region. And they asking people to come forward with any information.

And to entice them to do: that $200,000 reward that has been put up is expected to grow because a private savings account has been opened here in the Dallas area, being run by the Dallas Crime Stoppers organization, to try to encourage people from around the country to contribute to that reward in hopes that it will get so big that someone who knows something will come forward. Meanwhile, authorities say they are convinced, in addition to the fact that the seven are probably still in the Dallas area, that they are getting help from someone on the outside.

They're investigating whether their families are involved -- no indication that any of their families are. But they are looking into associations of anyone who had anything to with these inmates or who might have known them and who might be helping them. That effort continues. They continue to be on the loose. And authorities continue to stress they are extremely dangerous and anyone who comes into contact with them or recognizes them should call police and not try to take any action on their own, Joie.

CHEN: All right, Charles Zewe for us in Garland, Texas, continuing to follow that story.

We want to talk more about the Texas prison escape now with former New York City homicide detective, Richard "Bo" Dietl -- joins us now.

Can you talk to us about what is happening here? I mean, how is it that these guys are able to stay on the run for so long?

RICHARD "BO" DIETL, FMR. N.Y. HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: Well, it was very obvious that they got some help from the outside. What is being done now, I'm sure, is all the phone records, any communication that these inmates had over the last few months are being tracked down.

Any of their relatives, they must have taps on their phones if they were in any kind of communication. They are obviously being helped by someone on the outside. When they left the prison, there was the other cars that were waiting for them, I believe, in the mall and in the shopping area there. And they were able to get away.

Also, this reward, as it escalates up and keeps on going up, I believe, certainly, when it gets high enough, someone then is going to turn them in. But, of course, money does funny things with people. Loyalty all of the sudden leaves when the amount of money gets up so high. And then you have the Texas Rangers there. And you have that officer that was shot in the head several times and then run over with a car. You have got some angry policemen down there. They are not going to let up on these guys. And they certainly are going to surface eventually.

CHEN: Bo, the other thing that seems so incredible is that they have stuck together, apparently, by all reports. I mean, isn't it more common for these kinds of people to strike out on their own, try to get away from each other?

DIETL: Well, the thing you have to look at is the personalities. I believe there is one of them has a very strong personality that is controlling them, keeping them together. Because if they had independent personalities and they weren't grouped together like this, they would have spread out a long time ago, like a lot of other jailbreaks, where they go in their own directions.

But we are not sure for a fact if the seven of them are still together either. You know, that's some -- that's just speculation, I believe. At this time, we don't really know if the seven of them are together. I am hoping that they are together. And I'm hoping, when the police finally get them, they get them all at once. And I guarantee you, for the life sentences that these men are facing, they are not going to go easy. It's going to be a shootout. And people are going to be hurt, if not killed. CHEN: Yes, that is the point. These people are people who were convicted of very, very serious crimes, a couple people who already committed a homicide in this particular group. What is the best way to approach them, to apprehend them, without there being more bloodshed?

DIETL: Well, the best way is sheer numbers. If you find out and you think you know where they are, then you go there with massive numbers, whereas when they look out the window from wherever they are, they will see hundreds of Texas Rangers and police officers there with heavy equipment and big firepower. Then they will think twice, because they are not going to want to die. Then they possibly would surrender. But the whole thing is to have the amount of people that it's not just two cops pulling them over in a pickup truck. Then you are going to have a real problem, if they are outnumbered.

CHEN: But these are guys with very little to lose.

DIETL: They have very little to lose. They have some pretty big high-powered rifles, from what I saw of what they stole out of that sporting-goods store. These are semiautomatic weapons that have real great firepower. And they are not going to want to go back. They figure they are going to go back for the rest of their lives. And, now, the state of Texas has what they call a death penalty that Governor Bush has in effect out there. And they know they are going to fry.

So that means they're going to fight to the last breath not to go back, because they know they are going to get the death sentence. Whoever killed that cop, they are acting in a conspiracy. And they are all acting as one. If they were all shooting, they are all guilty of murdering that cop. So they definitely will get the death penalty. And they know that. So you have got some really desperadoes down there. And them cops down there have to be really careful when they apprehend these guys.

CHEN: Bo Dietl, private investigator and former New York homicide detective, thanks for your insight.

DIETL: Thank you.

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