Who's the Scariest of The Connally Seven?

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The escapees are now called the Connally Seven, after the John Connally maximum-security prison 60 miles southeast of San Antonio, Texas, they so brazenly broke out of on Dec. 13. But they might just as well be called the Rivas Gang, to give credit where credit is due. Most law-enforcement officers believe George Rivas, 30, is not only the first among the seven, but also the brains behind the entire operation--smart enough to begin plotting the escape six months in advance and smart enough to ingratiate himself and his trusted companions into the right work duty on the right day. "Guards are creatures of habit," says Richard Coons, the forensic psychologist who evaluated Rivas during his 1994 trial for kidnapping and robbery. With someone like Rivas, who is "able to bide his time and watch," such habits proved disastrous.

Last week, a "serious incident report review" released by the Texas department of criminal justice provided even more details of prison-guard shortcomings and Rivas' take-charge actions (see box). "He's very inventive, smart and loves to be a hotshot," says Coons. "This wouldn't have happened without George Rivas." In 1994 Coons concluded that "Rivas will continue his criminal career while in the penitentiary. It is likely he will be involved in gang activities and will be a leader." That testimony was instrumental in persuading the judge to sentence Rivas to 17 consecutive, rather than concurrent, life sentences. Says Coons: "This is the kind of person who might take a hurt bird to the hospital and would never hurt Granny unless she said you can't have the car, and then he would pump her full of lead." The gang is accused of murdering a policeman who tried to stop their assault on a sporting-goods store to steal weapons and cash. They shot him six times in the head, four in the arm and once in the back, then they used the getaway car to run him over to make sure he was dead.

A gun fanatic, Rivas named his dogs Ruger and Beretta. His previous robberies exhibited the meticulous planning expected of a sometime engineering student at the University of Texas in El Paso. Rivas would use disguises and lies to gain entrance to stores, often posing as a security guard or a store employee. Until the murder of the policeman last month, he never resorted to bloodshed--just psychological violence. Rivas would tell store employees, for example, that he knew their car licenses and could track them down if they gave the police too much information.

Michael Rodriguez, 38, may be Rivas' second-in-command. They both started serving their sentences in Connally at roughly the same time. Rodriguez was sentenced to life for hiring a hit man to kill his wife. The son of San Antonio business owners, he chose to plead guilty and not face trial. His lawyer Roy Barrera Sr. told the Dallas Morning News, "He looked at me and said he did it because he considered [murdering his wife] a challenge."

No one expects a gang member to turn traitor. "They are blood brothers," says Coons. And any potential rat would be killed by the others. But the cash they have on hand (less than $70,000) will eventually run out. Unless they are captured (the reward is now $300,000), expect the gang to strike again. As the note they left in prison said, "You haven't heard the last of us yet."