3 hurt as 5 Texas inmates attempt escape

One inmate was a convicted killer of a police officer

By Paige Hewitt
The Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON, Texas — A killer convicted in the 2006 slaying of a Houston police officer was among five inmates who tried to escape from the maximum security unit in Livingston, shortly after attending a prison church service Friday night.

Using rifles and shotguns, guards fired 12 rounds, striking three of the inmates and thwarting the jailbreak. Those prisoners remained hospitalized Saturday with non-life-threatening gunshot wounds and lacerations sustained from scaling razor-like barbed wire atop the Polunsky unit.

The other two inmates - including Juan Quintero, now serving a life sentence on a capital murder conviction in the killing of HPD officer Rodney Johnson - were sent back to prison with cuts to their hands and faces, said Jason Clark, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.

Officials did not yet know whether the attempted prison break was an orchestrated effort or an impromptu run at freedom.

The five inmates, all serving life sentences, left a worship service around 9 p.m., scaled an interior fence and were trying to climb a perimeter fence when guards in the tower and on the ground opened fire. The inmates now face charges of attempted escape, and their security classifications and privileges will change, Clark said.

The inmates included Michael Dueitt, who is serving a life sentence out of Calhoun County for capital murder and was shot in the upper thigh; Donald Gower, serving a life sentence for capital murder in Lampasas County; and Terry McDonald, who is serving a life sentence for murder in El Paso County and was shot in the upper right arm.

Quintero and the fifth inmate, Albin Zelaya-Zelaya, are serving time for convictions in Harris County.

Zelaya-Zelaya was an MS-13 gang member who is serving a life sentence for burglary with intent to commit a felony last year. Zelaya-Zelaya, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, was shot in the collarbone-area during the breakout attempt Friday night.

During the burglary trial here, family members from Honduras testified that Zelaya-Zelaya hacked a woman's parents to death with a hatchet as they watched in horror. The burglary case is on appeal and was last in court in November.

Zelaya-Zelaya was arrested in connection with an FBI sting, according to court documents. Local police also suspected him in kidnappings of illegal immigrants. Zelaya-Zelaya also was wanted last year for questioning in a 2004 attack on a bus in Honduras that killed 37 people.

Johnson's wife, Joslyn Johnson, applauded correctional officers for foiling the prison break but said she can't help but wish a bullet would have struck Quintero, who killed her husband during a routine traffic stop in 2006. She's still shocked that the illegal immigrant didn't receive the death penalty for the crime, which ignited debate over immigration policy.

"How does he continue to get away with everything?" said Joslyn Johnson, also a Houston police officer.

Before killing Rodney Johnson, Quintero was twice convicted for drunken driving in the mid-1990s, and he was convicted in 1999 on felony indecency charges for fondling the breasts of a 12-year-old girl. Quintero was then deported, later returning to Texas.

In September 2006, Rodney Johnson detained Quintero for not producing a driver's license. Johnson cuffed him and put him in the back seat of his patrol car, and then returned to the front seat. Quintero got his hands around a 9 mm revolver hidden in his pants and shot him.

The case hastened a police policy change that more quickly alerts federal authorities when an illegal immigrant is wanted by the law.

Quintero pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutor John Jordan, who asked for the death penalty, points to Quintero's escape attempt as proof, he said, that mercy was wasted.

"We told the jury if you're a threat handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, you'll always be a threat, anywhere," Jordan said. "When the jury sentenced Juan Quintero to life imprisonment, we feared this day would come."

Copyright 2010 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company

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