Editor's note: Reporter Jason Whitely was selected to witness the execution of George Rivas by lethal injection.
HUNTSVILLE — George Rivas, who led a daring prison escape in 2000 and brutally murdered an Irving police officer on Christmas Eve, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday evening.
The execution chamber has two observation rooms — one for the victim’s family and the other for loved ones of the condemned.
As witnesses walked in to the rooms at 6:09 p.m., tan leather straps already held George Rivas flat on the gurney. No one spoke. Rivas laid looking to his right at both groups divided by a partition.
Both arms were extended and had IVs inserted. A sheet covered him up to his chest.
A microphone was positioned over his head.
Moments later, as guards locked the steel doors behind the witnesses, a voice asked Rivas if he had a final statement.
“Yes I do,” Rivas responded.
He was smiling, as if at peace with what was imminent. He spoke quietly and clearly — first to loved ones of the slain Irving police officer.
“First of all, for the Aubrey Hawkins family, I do apologize for everything that happened. Not because I am here, but for closure in your hearts," he said. "I really believe you deserve that.”
“To my wife, Cheri,” he continued, while looking at the young woman he recently married by proxy, “I am so grateful you’re in my life. I love you so dearly. Thank you to my sister and dear friend, Katherine Cox, my son and my family. Friends and family, I love you so dearly.”
Rivas continued his statement as witnesses in both rooms stood silent.
“To my friends, all the guys on the row — you have my courtesy and respect. Thank you to the people involved and the courtesy of the officers. I am grateful for everything in my life. To my wife, take care of yourself, I will be waiting for you. I love you, God bless.”
Moments later Rivas ended by telling the warden: “I am ready to go.”
On the other side of the execution chamber, out of public view, three buttons were pushed simultaneously. One let the combination of three lethal drugs flow into the convict’s arms.
The time was 6:12 p.m.
Within seconds, Rivas began to breathe heavily and then make a snoring sound.
Less than a minute or two later, all movement had ceased.
Witnesses stood in silence for seven or eight more minutes until a doctor entered the chamber.
He examined both sides of Rivas’ neck for a pulse. Then put on a stethoscope to check for a heartbeat on his chest.
Not identifying any sign of life, the doctor looked up at a clock and said, "6:22 p.m."
It was the official time of death.
The doctor pulled the crisp white sheet over Rivas’ head and left the room.
Outside, more than two dozen uniformed Irving police officers stood vigil for their fallen friend.
“Today is not about George Rivas. Today is not about the death penalty. Today is about justice for Aubrey Hawkins,” said Toby Shook, the former Dallas County prosecutor who sent Rivas to Death Row.
Rivas, 41, ended up in the execution chamber for brutally murdering Irving policeman Aubrey Hawkins on December 24, 2000.
He shot the young father at least five times, then ran over his body after robbing a sporting goods store.
Rivas led a half=dozen other inmates on a daring prison escape from the Connally Unit, southeast of San Antonio.
The group, nicknamed the Texas 7, was the focus of a national manhunt and later discovered at a mobile home park near Pike’s Peak, Colorado.
After 11 years on Death Row, Rivas’ time ran out.
Appeals and clemency had been denied.
On Wednesday morning, he was driven about 50 miles from Death Row in Livingston to the Walls Unit.
He sat alone in a holding cell for five hours where he met with a chaplain and his attorneys before making several personal phone calls.
Minutes before 6 p.m., guards escorted Rivas 15 feet down the hall to the execution chamber where the jury’s verdict was carried out.
Hawkins’ widow, Lori, decided against attending the execution.
“I want to see justice carried out,” she said, but after witnessing the death of Michael Rodriguez — another of the Texas 7 — she said she felt no closure.
The widow sent Shook and several of her late husband’s friends in her place.
Besides his wife, Rivas asked his spiritual advisers to attend on his behalf.
The three drugs used for the lethal injection cost taxpayers more than $1,300 because the state had to substitute Phenobarbital, a more expensive drug, for a less expensive one that’s currently in short supply.