Tag Archives: huntsville

1991: Ignacio Cuevas, Huntsville Prison Siege survivor

This date in 1991 was the quiet coda of one of America’s most spectacular prison risings.

At the stroke of 1 o’clock on July 24, 1974, Federico “Fred” Gomez Carrasco, a life-sentenced heroin kingpin with more money than God, took control of the Huntsville Walls Unit‘s prison library with two henchmen — inmates Rudolfo Dominguez and Ignacio Cuevas. It is Cuevas’s eventual execution on May 23, 1991, that gives us occasion for this post — but the so-called Huntsville Prison Siege was all Carrasco’s show, starting with the guns he was able to smuggle into the stir.

With fifteen hostages in their power, a cordon of Texas Rangers blockading Walls Unit, and a legion of media camped round the clock, the audacious trio bargained for eleven tense and sweltering days — Eleven Days in Hell, by the title of a later account. The desperados won little amenities, like new clothes and toothpaste. The hostages braced for the worst, despite Carrasco’s considerable personal charm.

“I believe Carrasco made an attempt to be shown as a gentleman criminal,” a surviving hostage remembered. “He treated us with a great deal of respect and kindness — except, of course, when he’d tell us, ‘I’m going to shoot you in 20 minutes.’ And he did that three or four times a day.”

One inmate hostage was so afraid of Carrasco that he hurled himself out a glass window to get out from under his thumb. (It worked.) Two other inmates were freed after suffering heart incidents, one real and one feigned.

But Carrasco et al weren’t looking to move into the library permanently and make friends with their hostages. Their ultimate ask of negotiators was a biggie: an armored getaway car. Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe approved it and had rolled up to the prison courtyard.

The plan, so Carrasco said, was to flee for Cuba.

That Cuba wasn’t, topographically speaking, a drivable destination didn’t really enter into the question: car or no, the authorities obviously had no intention of letting their inmates roll on out for the freedom of the open road. The inmates obviously knew that, too … but then, they hadn’t got all dressed up for nothing.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on August 3, the dramatic eleven-day standoff came to a suitably cinematic shootout conclusion.

The trio of would-be escapees made their way that night for the armored car in an improvised fortification dubbed by the press (with questionable taste) the “Trojan Taco”: rolling blackboards armored with 700 pounds of legal tomes and all the remaining hostages. Carrasco, Dominguez, and Cuevas each handcuffed himself to one of the hostages and hunkered down with his unwilling escort inside the blackboard walls; the others formed a human shield outside the makeshift tank.

It was a pretty good plan to blank the Rangers’ guns.

So the Rangers brought firehoses to the fight instead.

The whole bunch, hostages and all, got hammered as they made their way down a ramp towards the car by the water jets, although the sheer weight of the “Taco” and its law library kept the formation from toppling. A melee ensued, with the desperate inmates firing from little gun ports in the “Taco”, and also shooting their hostages within it. Two of those unfortunates, Yvonne Beseda and Judy Standley, bled out in the prison courtyard.

Cal Thomas, today a nationally syndicated columnist, was a young reporter at the time for a Houston television station. “It is a tragedy that two hostages died,” he would later write. “It is a miracle all the rest lived.”

The perpetrators did not fare as miraculously. Rudolfo Dominguez was shot dead in the exchange. And Carrasco himself, who had once vowed in vain never to be taken alive by U.S. law enforcement, now belatedly made good his resolution by taking his own life. Only Ignacio Cuevas survived it, and he only to face capital murder charges and draw a 1975 ticket to death row. He was finally put to death sixteen years later — just steps away from the scene of his most notorious crime.

2010: Gary Johnson

“I never done anything in my life to anybody,” insisted 59-year-old Gary Johnson as he received on this date last year a lethal injection for a 1986 double homicide.

Life may be a journey and not a destination, but Johnson didn’t have far to travel: he was convicted of a murder just 10 miles outside Huntsville, where the state death house resides.

Specifically, he and his brother Terry allegedly burgled a ranch — and then shot dead the two men who responded to a concerned neighbor’s call about the suspicious activity. One of the victims was heard begging for his life before being shot execution-style.

(Terry Johnson copped a plea and is serving a 99-year sentence. Gary Johnson took his chances at trial.)

Without going so far as to advance any particular brief for Johnson’s actual innocence, we’re compelled to retch a little at this footnote to the Associated Press wire story:

[Gary Johnson’s trial prosecutor Frank] Blazek said investigators found the same slogan etched in concrete outside Johnson’s home and on a T-shirt he was wearing in a photograph: ”Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

What … like the everyday Metallica shirt? Or did he mean the Special Forces icon?*

”It indicated a callousness about human life,” he said.

This guy needs to get out more.

Similar fatuous claims about pop-death iconography as indicia of guilt were leveraged in the now-infamous Cameron Willingham case; there’s something rather troubling about the fact that a quarter-century on, and even with the Willingham embarrassment fresh in the headlines, the prosecutor still finds this inconsequential sidelight compelling enough to mention — and an institutional journalist finds it serious enough to print.

* The last link in this sentence was formerly to a Special Forces gear page showing items for sale with this same logo; the link was in no way sponsored (no link on this site will ever be sponsored), and it was completely relevant to the text since it not only displayed the message in question but the fact that that message is a going commercial concern — i.e., that one can easily buy a shirt with the “damning” slogan. Twenty-eight months after that link was posted, a Google bot declared it unnatural and penalized not my site but the recipient of the link. As usual, Google’s error-prone summary judgments come with no channel for appeal. Though I’ve reluctantly altered the link since the other site doesn’t deserve Google’s vindictiveness, I note here, for the record and biliously, the editorial muscle unjustifiably arrogated by Google’s slipshod algorithm police.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.