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Texas Death Row Escapee Found Dead

December 4, 1998

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A death row inmate who cleared two razor-wire-topped fences and escaped into the Thanksgiving night through a hail of bullets was found dead Thursday in a river near the prison, authorities said.

Martin Gurule, 29, was the first man to break out of Texas’ death row since a member of the Bonnie and Clyde gang escaped in 1934. Gurule had been the subject of a massive manhunt for a week.

His bloated corpse was discovered about 5:30 p.m. beneath a bridge over the Trinity River by two off-duty prison employees who were fishing, said prison spokesman Larry Todd.

Authorities did not immediately say how Gurule died.

Todd said his identity was confirmed by prison clothing he was wearing and facial features. ``The body had deterioriated from being under water,″ he said.

The body was found about a mile east of the prison.

Gurule was among seven condemned killers who tried to break out of the Ellis Unit, 15 miles northeast of Huntsville, late Thanksgiving night.

The other six surrendered as guards in towers opened fire after spotting them, but Gurule managed to get over a pair of 10-foot chainlink fences topped with razor wire and scamper into the fog and darkness.

Tracking dogs lost Gurule’s scent on a road near the prison.

Todd said it appeared Gurule had been dead for some time. He was found wrapped in cardboard and had two sets of underwear. Authorities believe that is how he was able to get over the razor fence without serious injury.

A massive search that focused on the area immediately surrounding the prison had failed to turn up any leads, and authorities on Thursday posted a $5,000 reward for Gurule’s capture.

All seven inmates, who used a hacksaw blade to cut a hole in a death row recreation area fence, were part of the nation’s only prison work program that uses death row inmates.

The work project, where inmates make cloth goods for the corrections system, has been suspended.

Gov. George W. Bush demanded answers to how Gurule was able to escape.

``I’ve asked the Texas Rangers to step in,″ said Bush, who just returned from a Middle East trip.

The Rangers are the investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety. Huntsville prison officials said Gurule may have been helped by the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

Gurule was sentenced to death for shooting Minas ``Mike″ Piperis during a 1992 robbery at a Corpus Christi restaurant.

In January 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow broke into nearby Eastman Prison with guns blazing. They shot and killed two guards and freed Barrow’s cousin Raymond Hamilton, who was serving a 263-year sentence.

Hamilton was recaptured and sentenced to die for killing a guard in the escape. But on July 24, 1934, Hamilton escaped again _ along with two other prisoners _ from the Walls Unit in downtown Huntsville, which housed death row inmates until Ellis I was completed in the 1960s.

Authorities later recaptured Hamilton a second time, and he was executed on May 10, 1935, prison records show.

The Walls Unit is still where the executions actually take place, and it is the nation’s busiest execution chamber. Last year, Texas executed 37 people, far more than any other state. There have been 17 executions so far this year.

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