Member of infamous Tison gang scheduled for execution
PHOENIX (AP) _ The urgent call reached Sheriff Frank Reyes in the middle of a steamy August night in 1978.
Pinal County deputies were involved in a shootout south of Casa Grande with unknown assailants who had tried to run two roadblocks. Reyes was there within 15 minutes. It was hours before he realized the enormity of what he found.
Deputies had stopped the Tison Gang, two convicted murderers and the three sons who’d broken them out of prison 12 days earlier. Between escape and capture, they’d killed six people in two states and paralyzed Arizonans with fear.
Now, almost 20 years after the murder spree that spawned a television movie and subsequent book, one of three surviving gang members is set for execution. Randy Greenawalt, now 47, is to die by injection Thursday.
``He deserves it. I hope the hell they carry it out this time,″ said Bob Corbin, Arizona’s attorney general from 1978-90. ``If they executed him for his crime the first time, those people might still be alive today.″
``Those people″ were a young Arizona family of four and a Texas couple on their honeymoon when they crossed paths with the escapees. The Tison brothers _ Donald, 20, Ricky, 19, and Raymond, 18 _ had helped their father Gary Tison and Greenawalt break out of the state prison in Florence.
Greenawalt was serving a life sentence for murdering a truck driver in Flagstaff in 1974. Tison was doing life for killing a Phoenix jail guard in 1967.
Greenawalt was in on an escape plan hatched by Tison. As an office clerk at the prison’s trusty annex, he had access to the facility’s control room and was there July 30, 1978, when the Tison boys arrived for their usual visit.
Weekend visits to the medium-security prison offered an informal picnic setting in much laxer times, and the sons apparently had little trouble smuggling in an ice chest packed with revolvers and sawed-off shotguns.
The five men fled in Donald Tison’s 1969 Lincoln Continental, setting the stage for a manhunt still fresh in many minds.
``I remember how scared people were,″ said Michael Arra, now a state Corrections Department spokesman and then a Phoenix TV reporter. ``There were two killers on the loose and nobody knew where they were.″
The next day, the Lincoln had a flat tire on a barren stretch of road near the California border, just south of Quartzsite. Marine Sgt. John Lyons, 24, of Yuma and his family stopped to help. Their bodies were found five days later.
Lyons was lying near the abandoned getaway car, close-range gunshot wounds in his head, shoulders, chest and wrists.
His 23-year-old wife, Donnelda, was in the back seat, cradling 22-month-old Christopher. She’d been shot in the chest and neck; the toddler took a shotgun blast to the head.
The body of the couple’s niece, Teresa Tyson, 15, was found a quarter-mile away. She had crawled off, mortally wounded when a bullet shattered her thigh bone, fragments of which pierced her abdomen. She bled to death and was found with a leather dog collar buckled around her ankle, apparently in a misguided attempt to staunch the bleeding.
The Tison gang stole Lyons’ orange Mazda and headed northeast. Police believe it was Aug. 8 when they ran across James and Margene Judge at a construction roadblock in southwestern Colorado. But the date’s a guess at best.
The bodies of the Amarillo, Texas, couple, weren’t found until November. They’d been shot to death and dumped at a remote campsite near Pagosa Springs, Colo.
No one ever was prosecuted in the Judges’ murders, but Colorado authorities closed the case after the Arizona convictions.
The gang returned to Arizona. Police got their first break from a convenience store clerk in Flagstaff. Suspicious of a group of men who came in four times to load up on groceries and gasoline, the clerk gave police a description of the car the men were driving _ a Mazda, spray-painted silver.
Pinal County deputies set up two roadblocks on Interstate 10, believing the Tisons would use it on the way to Mexico.
What police could not know was that the gang had ditched the Mazda and was now driving the Judges’ van. It was loaded with guns and ammunition.
``So here comes this van with Texas plates and nobody has any idea the Tisons and Greenawalt are in it,″ said James W. Clarke, a University of Arizona professor who wrote ``The Last Rampage″ about the case. ``The van runs the first roadblock and then the second as shots are being fired.″
When the shooting stopped, police crawled up to the van and found the dying driver. ``That’s when they discovered they had Don Tison. It was dumb luck,″ Clarke said.
The others had run off into the desert. Greenawalt and brothers Raymond and Ricky were caught immediately. Gary Tison was found dead of exposure 11 days later, one mile from the shootout site.
Greenawalt and the surviving Tisons were charged with 92 crimes, including four counts of murder. All were convicted and sentenced to death in March 1979.
Thirteen years later, the state Supreme Court ruled the prosecution had failed to prove the brothers had shown reckless indifference toward human life, since their father and Greenawalt had done the shootings. They were resentenced to life in prison.
The 1983 made-for-TV movie about the escape, ``A Killer in the Family,″ concentrated on the Tisons. Clarke, whose book came out five years later, thought the movie was overly sympathetic to the sons. In his opinion, the boys were brainwashed by an overbearing father who persuaded them to help him escape.
Corbin, the former attorney general, was asked about all this attention accorded the case.
``People shouldn’t make heroes out of killers,″ he responded. ``These people were cold-blooded murderers. They killed four people in Arizona and two more in Colorado. That’s what people should remember.″