Texas has executed one of the inmates responsible for pulling off the largest prison escape in state history. Prior to the escape, the condemned man had been in prison serving a 99-year sentence for using a deadly weapon during a robbery, but he was sentenced to death for killing a police officer while on the lam with the infamous Texas 7 group of escapees.
Fifty-two-year-old Donald Newbury is the third member of what came to be known as the “Texas 7” to be executed for the shooting death of Irving, Texas, police officer Aubrey Hawkins, 29. The seven escapees who formed the group were in the middle of robbing a sporting goods store on Christmas Eve in 2000 when Hawkins interrupted the crime in progress. The escaped prisoners shot him 11 times before pulling his body from his police car and running it over with an SUV they had stolen. All told, the Texas 7 made off with $70,000, over 40 firearms with ammunition, and wallets and jewelry taken from the store employees who had been closing the store.
Court documents said the Texas 7, fronted by George Rivas, an inmate serving 17 terms of life in prison, overpowered workers at the Connally Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The prisoners forced their way into a prison armory and stole weapons before making their escape in a prison truck. Rivas and Newbury robbed a RadioShack store in Houston two days later, making off with police radio scanners and other electronic items.
The former assistant district attorney of Dallas County, Toby Shook, prosecuted both men. He described Rivas as the group’s leader and Newbury as “his muscle.”
When Hawkins was killed, the Texas 7 had been on the run for 11 days. They remained fugitives for another month until their capture in Colorado. When Newbury was arrested, he was sharing a hotel room in Colorado Springs with fellow escapee Joseph Garcia. Twelve firearms, all loaded, were discovered in the room.
After his arrival in 2002 to Death Row, Newbury was charged with over 50 crimes, including assaulting prison staff with a weapon and taking part in a riot. Although additional prison guards were on hand during the execution in case of an outbreak of violent behavior from the condemned, their presence was not needed.
Newbury’s final statement before he was put to death was taken from scripture: “That each new indignity defeats only the body. Pampering the spirit with obscure merit. I love you all. That’s it.” Witnesses to the execution report that when the lethal dose of pentobarbital began to take effect, the condemned man closed his eyes, drew a deep breath and began to snore. Each snore was a bit more faint until the last one, the twelfth, at which point no more movement was seen from Newbury. He was declared dead at 6:25 p.m. – 11 minutes after his last breath.
A last-day appeal by Newbury’s lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied. In their argument, they claimed that Newbury’s previous counsel had been ineffective and that his defense was not granted enough money by the courts to hire an expert to testify to the impact that childhood abuse had on their client’s future violent tendencies. At the time of his third robbery conviction, Newbury had already been paroled twice for aggravated robbery convictions. In response to the appeal, assistant attorney general of Texas, Tomee Henning, called the appeal request a “meritless attempt” to delay the execution, which had previously been put on hold in 2012, when a stay of execution was granted one week prior to his scheduled death.
Of the infamous Texas 7, one member, Larry Harper, committed suicide rather than surrendering. Rivas was executed in 2012 when he was 41. George Rodriguez dropped his remaining appeals and was put to death at age 45 in 2008. Joseph Garcia, 43; Randy Halprin, 37 and Patrick Murphy Jr., 53, are on death row awaiting their own execution dates.
As Newbury was being executed, over 20 police officers gathered outside of the Texas State penitentiary in Huntsville to pay their respects. Several pulled up on motorcycles, whose engines could be heard revving inside the execution chamber.
By Jennifer Pfalz