Alberto Morales is a violent career criminal with more than two dozen arrests. He has been in and out of prison for two decades, on charges ranging from sexual battery on a 61-year-old woman to stealing and torturing exotic birds.
And now, the 41-year-old convicted rapist is a man on the run after an audacious escape that sounds like it was scripted in Hollywood. It left a Miami-Dade police detective seriously wounded, and has the entire state of Texas on high alert.
It all started as a routine prisoner transfer, the kind of assignment that cops do regularly without much fanfare.
Miami-Dade police detectives were escorting Morales from Miami to Las Vegas when Morales pulled a series of slippery stunts. First, he got himself kicked off the airplane in Houston after causing a ruckus — similar to a scene in the movie Midnight Run starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The detectives, Jaime Pardiñas and David Carrero, carried on, renting an SUV in Houston and embarking on a 1,500-mile road trip to Las Vegas, where Morales was being delivered to serve two life stretches in prison for sexual assault.
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With Morales bound by handcuffs attached to waist shackles, the detectives drove 250 miles north to Dallas, where they planned to rendezvous with a Miami-Dade detective flying in to assist in the cross-country trek.
They made it to Dallas ahead of their colleague’s arrival, so they decided to make a detour to a 24-hour Walmart in nearby Grapevine to use the restroom, according to Miami-Dade police.
While Carrero was inside the store, Morales somehow managed to break his eyeglass frame and use it like a dagger, pounding the weapon repeatedly into Pardiñas’ chest and back. When Carrero returned, Pardiñas was bleeding and Morales was gone — apparently still in his handcuffs and shackles.
Pardiñas, a 28-year veteran who once got a commendation for protecting President George W. Bush, was rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital, where he was in stable condition following surgery, Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson said Tuesday morning. Carrero, a seven-year veteran, was not hurt.
Morales was “doing a lot of crazy and unusual things” on the plane, pounding his head against the seats of other passengers, said Patterson, handling his first crisis since being named head of the department earlier this month.
He added that police are still not sure how Morales did it, but he said the detectives’ supervisors were informed of and approved the plan to drive Morales to Las Vegas in the rental SUV after the aborted plane flight, an idea that he admitted was out of the ordinary.
“To continue the trip they had to do something,” Patterson said.
As the sun set Tuesday, the manhunt continued for Morales. Texas authorities said he may have fled in a white Ford SUV, possibly an Explorer (Texas plates 19ZJW8) that was stolen in Irving around the time Morales made his getaway. There was a gun in the white SUV when it was stolen.
Texas law-enforcement agencies, the U.S. Marshals Service and additional Miami-Dade police officers who flew into Texas after the incident were trying to track the fugitive, who now can add charges of attempted murder on a police officer and escape to his violent résumé.
Morales is five-foot-seven and about 175 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair, and has a tattoo of an Indian riding horseback across his left shoulder. When last seen, he was wearing gray shorts and a white hoodie. He was immediately added to Texas’ 10 Most Wanted list. A $10,000 reward was being offered for information leading to his arrest.
A native of Cuba whose family moved to Miami, Morales was arrested for a pair of violent rapes in Miami in 2003, but somehow eluded police and fled to Nevada, where he was convicted of two more rapes and sentenced to two life prison terms.
In 2008, he was extradited back to Miami, where he pleaded guilty to the original rape charges, plus kidnapping, burglary and assault related to the 2003 attacks on two women in Little Havana. He was given 10 years on top of the life sentences, and was being returned to finish his Nevada sentence at the time of his escape.
In the Miami incidents, Morales broke into an apartment on Southwest 18th Court and, wielding a wooden-handle knife, locked a 61-year-old woman inside a bathroom and raped her 39-year-old roommate. When he was done, Morales raped the older woman.
He left his wallet behind in the apartment.
His other crimes ranged from routine episodes of drug possession, grand theft, burglary, robbery and resisting arrest, to dealing stolen property, carrying concealed weapons and stealing exotic wildlife.
He was caught by Miami-Dade police on at least two occasions with caches of stolen birds worth thousands of dollars. In one of those incidents, the birds were found stuffed into pillow cases, and in another, they were discovered starving in an apartment.
Among the charges he faced: multiple counts of animal cruelty and “torturing animals with the intent to cause intense pain.” During one pet-shop burglary, he shot and killed two dogs.
Anyone with information is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477).
Miami Herald staff writers Charles Rabin and David Ovalle contributed to this report.