For the better part of four days, convicted rapist Alberto Morales spent his time hiding in a dense thicket of black oak trees nestled on the banks of Grapevine Lake, a reservoir about 20 miles north of Dallas.
Wearing one white tennis shoe, a pair of black shorts and a gray hoodie, Morales endured cold north winds and frigid rains.
It was only a matter of time before the desperado would have to make a move, and when he did, a brigade of Texas lawmen were swiftly at his heels. Whether he was armed, law officers wouldn’t say. But the vicious escaped convict had nearly killed a Miami-Dade police detective and had said he would never go back to prison.
On that he was true to his word.
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Morales was shot and killed shortly after midnight Friday in a quiet little neighborhood that’s relatively crime free — at least it was until late Monday. That’s when the residents of Grapevine, Texas, learned that a convicted rapist was in their midst, having escaped from two Miami-Dade detectives transporting him to Las Vegas in a rented SUV.
“It was kind of like releasing a cobra,’’ said Grapevine Mayor William Tate, describing how people in the town of 46,000 were on edge after the escape. As in most places in Texas, guns are a common accessory, and there was no way of knowing whether Morales had managed to get his hands on one.
“Everyone was worried, everyone was scared,’’ said Police Chief Eddie Salame Saturday, just hours after Morales was taken down.
“Now we’re all breathing a collective sigh of relief.’’
After he bolted from the SUV, stabbing one of the detectives with a jagged pair of broken eyeglass frames, Morales, 41, was placed on Texas’ 10-most wanted, and an aggressive posse of SWAT team members was organized.
About 10:30 p.m. Friday, authorities got the call they were waiting for: a burglary on Forest Hills Road, a rural lakefront community just four miles from the Walmart parking lot where he had escaped. The homeowners, Teresa and Brian Parker, had just returned after spending the evening out. Brian Parker immediately realized something was wrong because their lights were on and a bathroom window was broken. He also noticed a distinctive body odor when they walked into their bedroom.
Missing was a good selection of Brian Parker’s wardrobe, including a pair of shoes and sweatpants.
“He trashed our closet and took all my jewelry,’’ Teresa Parker said.
Within minutes, residents were woken by the drone of helicopters, flashing lights and barking bloodhounds. At 12:30 a.m. a helicopter with infrared lights caught a glimpse of Morales near the Lake Forest Boat Club.
Grapevine City Councilwoman Darlene Freed, who lives a stone’s throw away, said she slept through the commotion, but was briefed the next morning.
“My guess is he went up and broke into that house and went straight toward the lake. They found him pretty quick,’’ she said.
Three officers opened fire, and Morales was dead.
“I can’t say that I am sorry about the end of the story,’’ Jo-Ann Glaze of Grapevine wrote on Facebook. “He should have known better to escape in Texas.’’
‘Demons in his head’
Morales, a career criminal and schizophrenic who was in and out of prison most of his life, migrated to Miami from Cuba with his family when he was young. At 17, he was hit in the head with a baseball bat, and had suffered brain trauma ever since, according to one of his attorneys, Marc Saggese of Las Vegas.
“He said that ever since that attack and subsequent surgeries he was struggling with demons in his head,” Saggese told The Associated Press.
Morales, whose nickname was “Willie,’’ lived in various areas of Miami and Hialeah, and, according to his rap sheet, worked as a roofer. He also had a strange obsession with exotic birds and wildlife. In 1996, he took to stealing them from Miami pet stores and homeowners.
He once was caught hiding in a kitchen cabinet in a house while attempting to steal a macaw and a cockatoo named Peaches. He was nabbed by police, but not before he shot the owners’ dogs to keep them quiet.
Over the next few years, he would be arrested nearly two dozen times on charges ranging from resisting arrest with violence to sexual battery. In 2003, Morales was on the run from Miami authorities in connection with the rapes of two women in Little Havana. He fled to Nevada, where he sexually assaulted a woman in an apartment near the Las Vegas Strip that same year.
While in a jail medical ward, Morales mutilated his genitals and scrawled words in blood on the wall, Saggese said. He underwent a psychological examination by doctors at a Nevada state mental hospital but was found competent to stand trial, the attorney said.
Morales pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 30 years to life and sent to High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nevada.
He was about five years into his sentence when he was extradited back to Miami to face charges in the 2003 Little Havana rapes. He spent four years in the Miami-Dade County Jail before he was convicted and sentenced to another 10 years, to be served if and when he was paroled in Nevada. Plans were then made to return him to Indian Springs to serve out his 30-years-to-life sentence.
While incarcerated in Florida, however, he became schooled with weapons and how to escape from restraints.
“We do have information that he devoted considerable time while in prison practicing how to get out of handcuffs and fashioning edged weapons out of whatever he could find,’’ said Sam Shemwell, Grapevine crime prevention officer.
Plan B goes bad
Two Miami-Dade police detectives, Jaime Pardiñas and David Carrero, were assigned to transport Morales by commercial flight. The plane had barely taken off when he became unruly and began to bang his head on other passengers’ seats. When the plane made a scheduled stop in Houston, Morales was kicked off, authorities said.
At that point, the detectives launched “Plan B,” which was to transport him the remaining 1,200 miles to Las Vegas in a rental vehicle. With Morales in handcuffs attached to a belly belt, they loaded the slight, five-foot-seven convict into the SUV, and headed north to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where a third Miami-Dade police detective was flying in to assist with Morales during the long road trip.
Pardiñas and Carrero arrived three hours ahead of their colleague, so they decided to make some stops, picking up food and using a restroom. About 11 p.m., they visited a Walmart near the airport. Carrero entered the store, leaving Pardiñas to guard Morales, police said.
Morales lunged at Pardiñas and stabbed him several times in the neck with the sharp end of his broken eyeglass frame. Pardiñas, reeling in pain, called 911, his breathing labored as he told dispatchers that Morales had fled. The store’s surveillance cameras captured Morales sprinting across the store parking lot.
He may have gotten as much as a 15-minute head start.
Grapevine police, a 90-member force, quickly mobilized, calling in federal and state law enforcement to aid in the hunt. Bloodhounds were dispatched. They tracked Morales’ scent from the shoe he had left behind.
Freed described the area near the Walmart as industrial buildings and warehouses surrounded by thick woods. The dogs led them to Dragon Stadium at Southlake High School, then to Grapevine High School’s Mustang Stadium, before losing his scent, she said.
For the next few days, police fielded 80 to 100 tips, but all proved fruitless. A white Ford Explorer stolen in the area gave them hope, but also turned out to be a dead end.
Ten Miami-Dade police officers flew in to help with the search.
Meanwhile, Pardiñas was struggling. The wounds had narrowly missed his jugular vein, but he had a collapsed lung and was barely able to speak. His family, including his daughter, flew to Grapevine to be by his side.
Saturday he was released from the hospital.
Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Genaro “Chip” Iglesias and Miami-Dade PD Deputy Director Juan Perez flew to Dallas on Thursday. They were grilled by local reporters: Why did detectives rent a car after Morales became unhinged on the plane? Why didn’t they ask for local police assistance? Why did they make risky stops?
Transporting a prisoner using a car is a “contingency we have in place,’’ Perez told The Dallas Morning News.
Iglesias said Saturday that a thorough review of Morales’ escape is under way.
“Regardless of what happened, it’s clear he escaped so something went wrong.’’