Three shot, two injured after attempted prison break

January 30, 2010 8:58:07 PM PST
Five men, including a man convicted of killing a Houston police officer, are accused of trying to break out of an east Texas prison. Guards opened fire to stop them. People with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say the corrections officers followed procedure.

Corrections officers say the five men tried to make a run for it, attempting to get out of the Polunsky Unit near Livingston. All five general population offenders are facing escape charges.

A total of three guards opened fire on the inmates and at least 12 rounds were fired. One inmate was shot in his collarbone, another in his thigh, and a third in his arm.

As the Office of Inspector General investigates, residents near the unit breathed a sigh of relief.

"Last night, they just kept going and then we heard the helicopter," said resident Yolanda Robinson.

Living just blocks from the Polunsky Unit, Robinson still shudders to think of what could have happened, especially considering the types of inmates who tried to get away.

"I'm glad they got caught, OK. I'm glad," said Robinson.

It was just after 9pm Friday, when the failed prison break happened. The five inmates were leaving a church service in the gym when they made a run for the interior fence. It was then, authorities say, a tower guard spotted the men and jumped to action.

"He gave them a verbal order to stop. The offenders continued on and continued to climb on that fence and that's when he opened fire," said Jason Clark, spokesperson for the TDCJ.

It's believed all five men managed to scale the interior fence and were making a run for the perimeter fence when the officer started firing. That officer was joined by another tower guard and a guard patrolling the perimeter.

Wounded by the gunfire were inmates Albin Zelaya-Zelaya, 29, Terry McDonald, 29, and Michael Duiett, 27. The remainder of the inmates only suffered cuts from the razor ribbon on the inner fence. All five inmates were captured inside the perimeter.

"Offenders know that if they approach the fence or attempt to climb the fence then officers can use force against them," said Clark.

Two of the inmates have ties to Harris County: Juan Quintero, 36, was convicted of murdering HPD Officer Rodney Johnson. He is currently serving a life without parole sentence. Zeyala-Zeyala, who is said to a member of MS 13, is serving life for burglary with intent to commit a felony. He has also been linked to the murders of former in-laws who were found beheaded. He's wanted for questioning in the massacre of 37 people in Honduras as well.

Resident Lanita Wyatt can't fault the prison guards for how they handled the incident.

"They took care of their business. They shot, they did whatever they had to do, so I mean I'm proud of them," said Wyatt.

Dueitt, Zelaya-Zelaya, and McDonald suffered gunshot wounds and were taken to area hospitals for non-life threatening injuries. Their conditions are unknown at this time.

Quintero and Gower were treated for multiple lacerations and are back at the unit.

All five will face felony attempted escape charges and will likely have their housing restricted.

The Polunsky Unit is still locked down at this time.

All five escape suspects are serving life sentences for violent crimes. Donald Gower, 41, was serving a life without parole sentence. He was convicted of killing his wife in Copperas Cove three years ago. Michael Dueitt of Port Lavaca was serving a life sentence for capital murder after he was convicted of stabbing and killing a man in 2001. And Terry McDonald was serving a life sentence for killing his roommate and burying the victim in his front yard in 2005.

We worked on this story with The Cleveland Advocate, one of our Houston Community Newspaper partners.