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FBI Holds News Conference on Recapture of Texas Prison Escapees

Aired January 25, 2001 - 1:35 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take you now directly live to Denver, Colorado. Mark Mershon, the FBI special-agent-in-charge of the capture of these fugitives now, who will be heading back to Texas, is speaking.


MARK MERSHON, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: ... of one of the most high- profile manhunts in recent history. It's also important for us to clarify, acknowledge and, frankly, pay homage to the critical roles played by a number of agencies as this came together.

You also have a photo opportunity here to view and photograph much of the physical evidence gathered. These are most of the firearms. They are not all of them, so as you can consider how impressive this display is, recognize this is not all of them.

No agency has a greater emotional stake in this unfolding episode than the Irving, Texas Police Department. It was their officer responding to an armed robbery of a sporting goods store who was ambushed and brutally murdered. With us from the Irving Police Department today are Detectives Jeff Spevy (ph) and Detective Randall Johnson.

ATF has been with this investigation from the start. They are responsible for federal firearms charges and have been responsible with the Irving, Texas Police Department for crafting the affidavits in support of Colorado state search warrants for the vehicles and rooms. Representing ATF is Resident-Agent-In-Charge -- he's a special agent -- Rich Marianos.

Participating also throughout this manhunt has been the United States Marshals Service, which has its own proud history in the fugitive business. Representing the Marshals Service is our United States Marshal Tina Rowe for the district of Colorado.

The action began in earnest this Sunday last, of course, in Teller county after a tip was received from an area resident that led to the first five subjects of the seven that were accounted for. This Teller County action was coordinated by Teller County Sheriff Frank Fehn. Under the Colorado state mutual aid program, the rural, mountainous Teller County reached over to adjacent county, El Paso, and received stellar assistance from that sheriff's office, the El Paso County sheriff, John Anderson.

All right, as Monday of this week, a tactical day, yielded into Tuesday, we went into an investigative mode. And back Tuesday night in Colorado Springs, we went into the -- back into the tactical mode. The Colorado Springs P.D. acted on a citizen's tip, as you know, identifying the remaining two fugitives in a Holiday Inn in the Springs. Pardon me. And they responded with a tremendous tactical and negotiation presence.

I'm sorry to say that we don't have anybody representing the Colorado Springs Police Department. We'll try to do justice to their role as we go through this conference.

Also with significant support but not present today was the Woodland Park Police Department. They provided security and a backdrop, and a highway security force as well.

Special recognition for the Colorado State Patrol. Our hearts go out to that State Patrol family and to the very family. They lost, as you know, Trooper Manspeaker, a young trooper in a fatal automobile accident as he was responding to a reported sighting of the van that you're also familiar with. That turned out to be a false report. But his energy, his enthusiasm are recognized. And, as I say, our hearts go out to them.

First off, we have ATF Special Agent Rick Marianos to discuss their role throughout this investigation.

RICH MARIANOS, BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS: Good morning. I thank you all for all your support in these last few days, working in conjunction with us, and bearing in mind the time constraints that we all had to operate from with this sensitive issue.

ATF's involvement really kicked into high gear upon arrest when my office, along with my Colorado Springs Police Department Gun Interdiction Unit, began a federal firearms weapons investigation. The information was received through ATF in San Antonio, where they received federal arrest warrants for the individuals once they stole the firearms from the penitentiary system and traveled to Colorado.

Upon -- working in conjunction with ATF-Texas, San Antonio, specifically and the Dallas division we began to work on the preparation for the search warrants for the known locations of the offenders. At that time, it was the trailer, or mobile home, and also a vehicle in which they were arrested in.

With the support of the DA's office, Teller and El Paso County, the FBI legal staff and some of my agents, they began to put together an affidavit which we carried through and used information from that affidavit on all the search warrant locations or vehicles all the way up until the apprehension early morning.

Basically, we used, as our biggest template, the list of the stolen weapons along with the FBI evidence recovery team to check off the weapons as we go. The big issue about the 60 firearms -- well how do we know where we're at? The ATF-Dallas and ATF San Antonio were phenomenal in getting all the serial numbers, identifications on the Oshman guns and the department of correction guns, so we had an accurate list as soon as we went in.

By checking off the list as we recovered every gun and meticulous inventory was done we were able to have an accurate inventory at every location and know at which time what guns we had and which we didn't, which played an important role when the Colorado Springs SWAT team executed the arrests at the Holiday Inn.

We were very fortunate with this list and the outstanding recovery job to provide the SWAT team the actual guns that the offenders had behind closed doors. And for those of you that are very familiar with, you know, an investigation in law enforcement and any techniques by a SWAT team, it's wonderful when you have that unknown variable behind the door. And if it wasn't for the great recovery by the evidence response team and the agents -- ATF checking off the guns, we would have never had that.

Finally, you know, to continue the chronology that Mr. Mershon described, we all agreed upon dismissing the federal firearms charges out of Dallas and San Antonio to concentrate on the capital offense, which was the most important thing. I've said this to you since I began this investigation and getting involved in it, that the murder of this police officer and a slain police officer was the top priority. And my office, along with ATF in Texas were instructed and agreed to do whatever we could to assist the Irving Police Department, especially when the loss was a law enforcement officer.

As the investigation continued, our main job then became making sure that the warrants were prepared legally, professionally, and done meticulously in the inventory of the evidence to concentrate on this capital offense.

I want to introduce now a good friend of ATF, and I'm glad I got to work with him; a true professional, Jeff Spevy, who's going to talk a little bit about the capital case. It was a pleasure working with these individuals and, as Mr. Mershon said, I enjoyed very much the cooperation and the spirit that enabled us to apprehend these individuals and conduct a professional investigation -- that we're very confident that when -- at least Colorado -- that these people will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Thank you very much.

JEFF SPEVY, IRVING POLICE DEPARTMENT: On December the 24th of 2000, Christmas Eve, Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins was murdered in the line of duty while protecting the citizens of Irving, Texas. Since that night, we have had one goal, and that was to bring the persons responsible for his murder to justice. The investigation was conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week and quickly expanded from the local level to a nationwide search for these individuals.

With the help and support of Dallas-Fort Worth area of metroplex law enforcement agencies, the Texas department of criminal justice, the Texas department of public safety, the Dallas office of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Dallas office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United States Marshal Service, we were able to identify those persons responsible for officer Hawkins' murder.

Once these suspects were identified, the willingness of you, the news media, to keep the manhunt in the forefront of the public's mind was paramount to our investigation. We want to thank the local and national news agencies that continued reporting on this investigation. We also want to thank John Walsh and the staff of "America's Most Wanted" for their efforts in keeping this a nationwide investigation.

We would also like to thank all of the companies, agencies and individuals who contributed to the reward fund. The investigation and subsequent leads provided by the citizens throughout the nation ultimately enabled us not only to locate these suspects, but led to their arrest and the seizure, as you can see, of an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to their involvement in officer Hawkins' murder.

We would like to thank the United States Customs airwing for providing us air transport from Texas to Colorado and back home; the agents of the Colorado Springs office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; we would like to thank the Denver division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, especially those agents with the Colorado Springs resident office; we would like to thank the Colorado Springs Police Department, the Woodland Park Police Department, the Teller County and El Paso County sheriff's office and the district attorney's office in the 4th Judicial District, and especially the citizens of Colorado, who took the time and paid attention enough to realize these individuals were amongst them, and for making those phone calls.

We'll return back to Irving, Texas and continue working with the Dallas County district attorney's office in preparing capital murder cases on these suspects and ultimately see that justice prevails in this situation.

As has already been stated, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Trooper Manspeaker, who gave his life in the line of duty while assisting in this investigation; and our thoughts and prayers remain with the family of officer Aubrey Hawkins.

Thank you all.

MERSHON: Thank you, detective.

Next to chronicle the participation throughout the United States Marshal Service, our United States Marshal Tina Rowe, representing the entire state, the district of Colorado -- Tina.


I know many of you all because I've worked with you in the past, and so I feel comfortable sort of making an overview statement that maybe is a little less formal, but you can relate to this very much, I think. That this successful operation really shows what can result when you have the combination of an alert, concerned citizen and positive media attention, and the combined efforts of local, county, state and federal law enforcement; it's an unbeatable combination. And the United States Marshal Service was very proud to be part of that combination.

So I'm going to take a second just to go over what we were involved with; but I have it in writing, I have it printed up for you, and I'll hand it out to you right afterwards after all of this is done so that you'll have the names and so forth. I'd give it to you now, but I don't want you reading it while I'm talking, so I'll get it to you just a little bit later -- and you do that Boscowitz (ph).

First I wanted to mention that the marshal service has been involved as a participate at the command post in Huntsville, Texas since right after the fugitives escaped and they were there, in large part, because of the successful cooperation that we've had with Texas authorities in the past in a number of high-profile cases. Most notably and most recently, the Raphael Resendez-Ramirez railroad killer case that we had worked with them.

And so, as a result here in Denver we were prepared to work on leads and so forth that might be forwarded to us. And we would be working through a task force that's already been established; and I have that written down here as well, but I wanted to mention them. It's the front-range task force and the FLAG, which is Fugitive Location and Apprehension Group. We work under HIDA, the High- Intensity Drug Trafficking Area grant that we have.

And I think it's important to mention that because it shows us that there are already things in place where we can get a lot of multi-agency cooperation; so we were prepared to work with that anyway. And largely because of those kinds of contacts, when the call came in on Sunday to the Teller County Sheriff's Department with a tip, they contacted El Paso County and Sergeant McDonald (ph) down there -- Detective Sergeant McDonald -- contacted our deputy, Gerard McCann (ph) and he went immediately down to that area to help start set up surveillance and so forth; and he contacted the FBI and our Texas task force people. And so they were going to be responding.

The FBI responded right away, and as a result we got surveillance set up. And over the night, our three deputies -- and we had three down there -- were involved in the close surveillance of the operation. And we were real proud of their focus because there's a lot of people involved. The FBI certainly were heavily involved with all of the things that took place, and our role is to make sure that the criminal justice process works and to work as part of the team, and I think they did that very, very effectively.

So after a night of surveillance, we were gathering information. All of that time, it was going on, and so forth. They were also present when the arrest was made, and helped set up a lot of sort of the behind the scenes things. And many of you know you can say surveillance went on and leads were gathered, but the truth of the matter is is there's a lot of things involved in that.

And so we were also setting up with Sheriff Fehn, who did a spectacular job of everything that he did, working on the where were we going to do confinement and what medical support might be needed and all those kinds of details. After the arrest, then, at the RV park of one of the fugitives and the discovery of the suicide of the other, our deputies were involved in sort of the follow-up and the cleanup on that and making sure that they did the role that they were supposed to fulfill as best as they could. And then later, a couple of nights later, a night later, in Colorado Springs, we once again responded and were present when the arrest took place at the Holiday Inn.

And so, one of the things that I like to mention, I say it in closing -- is that I said it's a combined team. And one of the things that I think is a hallmark of the marshal service and I hope will always be is that we fit in wherever we can fit in to do the best job that we can and to work as part of a united team. And we felt that in this case, as you look at all of the work that was done, there was a tremendous sense of accomplishment to say that we made this part of the criminal justice system work, not just for the citizens of Colorado, but for the citizens of Texas, as well, and we're very proud of that.

So after -- after the press conference, I have a copy of anything that you'll need along that line with some phone numbers that you might want to contact if you have any further questions, and I'll make sure that you get those.

Thank you.

MERSHON: Now with a Colorado chronology. As we indicated, this case really broke Sunday with the tip from a citizen to the Teller county sheriff's office, and we will confirm it was a direct result, no question, of the viewing of "America's Most Wanted," that broadcast the night before. Sheriff Frank Fehn notified the FBI and as I say, reached out to adjacent El Paso county for the tactical and command resources. Here is Teller county Sheriff Frank Fehn.

SHERIFF FRANK FEHN, TELL COUNTY POLICE: Good morning. If I'd known I was going to be here, I would have worn a tie. I apologize for the levity. It's a serious matter. Most off -- most of all, I have to thank you folks and the citizens.

I won't bore you with all of the total details, but a call came into us, the deputy took it, he knew it was serious, he contacted a supervisor, who in turn contacted me, and it began.

Realizing what the potential was, we reached out to our adjacent agencies, the federal agencies, and believe me, you do not get often the cooperation we got over these past few days. There were no egos; there were no turf wars. We had a job to do. We went out, and we did that job; we planned it very carefully so that there was no injury or possibility of danger to the citizens, and we took the risks, and everything worked out the way that it was planned.

Again, I thank you all for all of your parts in this operation, as well as the citizens.

MERSHON: Sheriff John Anderson responded in force with tactical and command resources. His SWAT personnel were assigned, along with the Teller county and FBI SWAT teams. The responsibility was establishing a safe perimeter to prevent the escape of these five individuals who turned out to be in the RV up there.

As I indicated previously, when we do these things, we craft some plans on how to handle situations. One of the aspects, in addition to the deliberate approach to this RV, when it came to that, was the eventuality, the potential, for these subjects to go mobile and the necessity to stop them and identify them. This, because of the expertise, the recent training, the capability and professionalism of the El Paso SWAT team fell to them. So when that eventuality played out, it was, in fact, the El Paso county SWAT team that executed that.

Next up is Sheriff John Anderson with El Paso county, to detail their participation.

I'd first like to extend my -- my organization's condolences to the family of the Irving police departments as well as Colorado State Patrol. And Sheriff Fehn, if I can build just a little bit -- I know this is a very serious and solemn occasion -- but we in law enforcement and probably many of you in the media and other progressions probably tried to adjust a little bit that seriousness with a little bit of levity or humor.

And such is the case with a personal friend and acquaintance that I have in Texas, and I would like to share that with you just a few minutes, if I may.

But first of all, I know for those of you that came here from Texas, you probably didn't know there was another El Paso county Sheriff's Office. And we're just south of you about an hour, in Colorado Springs. There is two El Paso county Sheriff's offices. The one here, which does neighbor Teller county -- Colorado Springs, I have to tell people landmarks: We have the Air Force Academy and NORAD, that you sometimes see in movies.

Because I'm always getting the e-mails and letters for Sheriff Salmon Yago (ph) -- a friend of mine, who's the sheriff in El Paso county -- and I'm constantly getting e-mails that are being forwarded with a little note: see, we told you so. They were always mixing us up, even though we're in two different states -- we were very, very close.

That organization is about comparable to the El Paso county Sheriff's Office: several hundred personnel, large detentions operations, $30 million-plus budget -- large, large operations both.

So we've become very close over the few years Sheriff's Salmon Yago's been -- was with the El Paso, Texas, Police Department for about a quarter a century. I was Colorado Springs Police Department for just short of that period of time, about 22 years. I am in my second and final term as the sheriff in El Paso county. He's in his fifth term in El Paso, Texas, so he's about 50 years into his professional career and a wonderful gentlemen.

I know each of his command staff personally, and I got an e-mail. We've been ribbing each other gently over the last couple of days. But the connections with El Paso county Sheriff's Offices -- for as some of you may know, two of the suspects were from El Paso, Texas, and that -- out of the seven that escaped.

So we have decided that the El Paso county Sheriff's Office in Texas has to pick up the dinner tab next time we're together because in the last six weeks, the El Paso county Sheriff's Office here has arrested a horse thief and found the stolen horse. Now, we've tried to go back in history, and we go back at least 70 years, and we can't find when the last time the Sheriff's Office here arrested and recovered a stolen -- arrested a suspect and recovered a stolen horse and the horse thief.

So we've done that, and of course, we think we're very proud -- each of us -- and with the apprehension of the Texas seven and our involvement there -- and I'll speak about that in a minute.

But the third thing that I mentioned to the staff there in Texas is we think you also have to pick up the dinner tab, because we helped get your governor elected president of our nation. They were pretty partial to the first lady since she's from El Paso.

But we share a lot of commonality. All of us in law enforcement do. We have that well-know brotherhood, that relationship that extends through that profession as much as what any of you do. And in many cases when I travel from the East Coast, West Coast, in the Midwest, or wherever, we talk, naturally, about the relationships -- particularly if you're an elected official, like Sheriff Fehn and I -- and we see pretty much eye to eye about everything, since we happen to be in the same party and very close to one another.

And we take for granted sometimes the spirit of cooperation that we have in Colorado with law enforcement agencies, and unfortunately that's not the case everywhere you travel in the United States. There are oftentimes sheriffs and police chiefs don't talk to one another. There's oftentimes county and state agencies that don't talk. And in many cases, the federal agencies -- law enforcement agencies -- don't talk to the locals, let alone one another.

But you know, that's not the case here. And that's not the case here because of the people, the men and women who are in each of these respective agencies, and the professionalism and the spirit of cooperation that was there before Mark or Rich or Tina or any of us standing up here arrived. It was the people who built that we've built upon. And I think I wanted to share that story as I get into the involvement with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, because this case epitomizes that spirit of cooperation and there were, as Sheriff Fehn said, no egos.

It was: "What can we do?" and "Let's put our best foot forward. We're all on the same side. Let's make sure these seven people -- these seven killers are brought to justice." When my phone first rang about 9:20 p.m. Sunday night, I was being notified that our SWAT team was being put on standby by Sheriff Fehn with the Teller County Sheriff's Office via our mutual-aid agreement. And as my undersheriff gave me a little more details, he and I both started to get the same feeling that, you know, this isn't -- this isn't like a lot of the other leads that we've had that's coming out of Teller County.

This lead has some validity to it. I think he sensed the same thing. So in addition to just having our SWAT teams on call, I actually drove to the office and found my undersheriff there when I arrived. So from 9:20 on, we called -- I called Sheriff Fehn at his office up until about 12:00 or 12:20. And we decided, let's drive to Teller County Sheriff's Office just so that we could be there if anything happens, and we can be at that assistance.

Not surprisingly to me, when I arrived -- before I even got to shake hands with Sheriff Fehn about 12:20 in the morning Sunday, I ran into Greg Groves, who is the resident agent in charge of the Colorado Springs office of the FBI and Maureen -- a couple of people in the back. The U.S. Marshals Office had been there for some time -- Tina. And one of my fugitive detectives were there. And so before we even began -- before I even could come up from the next county, the federal law enforcement agencies were working together. The U.S. Marshals Office had a solid airtight surveillance from at least 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning on.

So we know that brown van was not there, didn't slip out. What I was also very impressed with is, within probably 30-40 minutes of my arrival, Mark Mershon showed up...

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you're getting a little bit of the background on the law enforcement activity surrounding the capture of the "Texas Seven," now the "Texas Six" after the suicide of one of them in the Colorado Springs area.



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