Police: Florida escapee lunged at officers before he was fatally shot

Posted Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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GRAPEVINE -- A convicted sex offender from Florida who escaped in Grapevine during a prison transfer lunged at officers with wooden sticks before he was fatally shot early Saturday in a heavily wooded area near Lake Grapevine, police said.

Alberto "Willie" Morales, 42, had slipped out of the handcuffs he was wearing when he escaped Monday after stabbing a Florida detective with sharpened eyeglasses, said Sgt. Robert Eberling, a Grapevine police spokesman.

A manhunt ensued for the next four days before Morales -- who had vowed he would never return to prison -- was discovered in the densely wooded area shortly after midnight Friday.

Morales was shot about 12:25 a.m. after police had responded to a report of home burglary about two hours earlier, Eberling said. He was still wearing his prison-issued hooded sweatshirt, but had donned long jogging pants at some point, replacing the shorts in which he had escaped, said Officer Sam Shemwell, a department spokesman.

Three officers -- one from Grapevine and two from a U.S. marshal's task force -- fired multiple shots at Morales, Eberling said. He did not know how many times Morales was hit.

The fugitive's body was taken to the Tarrant County medical examiner's office.

"We're thankful that no one else was harmed," Eberling said.

"Obviously, we are very relieved," Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Genaro "Chip" Iglesias told The Miami Herald . "We are relieved that he will not be able to hurt anybody else."

The manhunt intensified late Friday when Grapevine police responded to a burglary call in the 2100 block of Forest Hills Road. The homeowners had been out since around 4 p.m. and returned about 10:30 p.m. to find the break-in, Eberling said.

Officers at the scene said that men's clothes and jewelry were missing from the home. Eberling said it is not known if Morales committed the burglary.

Later, police spotted Morales in the woods near the 2200 block of Lake Ridge Drive -- almost four miles from the spot where he escaped.

"They could hear someone moving in the woods," Eberling said.

A team of officers began searching the area, and a police helicopter was called in from Fort Worth to assist.

Because it was dark and the woods were so dense, officers in the helicopter -- who could see Morales using infrared equipment-- provided directions to the officers on the ground.

Once spotted, officers quickly surrounded the desperate fugitive in a "small opening," Eberling said.

Officers "gave him commands to surrender," Eberling said, but when they told him to get down "he lunged at them."

Morales was holding sticks in his hands as he lunged, Eberling said.

"He was very skilled and crafty as far as making makeshift ... weapons," Eberling said, adding that officers were well aware of that when they encountered him early Saturday.

"He was able to almost kill an officer with some eyeglasses, so he was certainly skilled with pointed objects as weapons," Eberling said.

Eberling said they do not know if Morales had been hiding in the woods since escaping on Monday, or if he had found shelter elsewhere.

"We are somewhat surprised that someone was able to remain hidden for that long, especially with the weather and inclement conditions of the past few days," Eberling said.

He said there were no signs of a campsite in the wooded area.

The burglary victims, 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 the distinctive smell of 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.

Wounded detective discharged from hospital

Miami-Dade detectives were taking Morales from Miami to Las Vegas when the inmate became disruptive on a flight. When the plane made a scheduled layover in Houston, Morales was kicked off for causing a disturbance by banging his head against the seats in front and behind him. In Houston, detectives decided to rent an SUV and drive the rest of the 1,200 miles.

After arriving in Grapevine, Detective David Carrero went inside the Walmart, leaving only Detective Jaime Pardiñas to guard the slight, 5-foot-7 Morales. While Carrero was away, Morales somehow managed to slip out of his handcuffs and used part of an eyeglass frame to repeatedly stab Pardiñas, critically injuring the veteran detective.

On a store surveillance camera, Morales can be seen running away from Pardiñas.

On a 911 call that the detective made, Pardiñas told the dispatcher that he had been stabbed in the neck and that Morales was a "schizophrenic."

Grapevine Councilwoman Darlene Freed said the area where Morales initially fled has industrial buildings and warehouses surrounded by thick woods. Police dogs led officers to Dragon Stadium at Southlake High School, then to Grapevine High School's Mustang Stadium before losing his scent, she said.

Badly wounded, Pardiñas was transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas for treatment.

Doctors discharged him Saturday morning, said hospital spokeswoman April Foran. Police said he sustained deep stab wounds to the neck, shoulder and back and a collapsed lung in the attack by Morales. KTVT/Channel 11 reported Pardiñas declined a wheelchair and walked out.

Eberling said Grapevine police and officers from Miami-Dade will continue to investigate the case, which involved dozens of local, state and federal authorities. Ten Miami-Dade police officers flew in to help with the search.

Born in Cuba

Morales had a long and bizarre criminal history, including his fascination with stealing exotic birds.

He once hid in a kitchen cabinet at a home after he attempted to steal two Macaws in Florida, punched his girlfriend when she didn't prepare him dinner and shot several dogs to keep them quiet as he stole over $250,000 worth of wildlife, according to 1990s arrest affidavits obtained by the Star-Telegram.

In one 1997 arrest in Dade County, Fla., Morales was found with 11 lovebirds stuffed inside a pillow case -- with no water or food -- and jammed under a car seat.

Morales, who was born in Cuba and immigrated with his family when he was young, listed his jobs as a laborer and roofer, but on one occasion he told police that he was unemployed because of a head injury. His attorney in Nevada, Marc Saggese, said that his client claimed he suffered a severe brain injury at the age of 17 when he was hit in the head with a baseball bat and has heard voices ever since.

"He said that ever since that attack and subsequent surgeries he has struggling demons in his head," Saggese told The Associated Press.

In March 1994, Miami-Dade police arrested Morales for reckless driving, driving without a license and possession of stolen property, according to the affidavits.

Morales was in trouble again in 1995, after police stopped him and found four stolen exotic birds valued at $5,000.

The same year, Morales punched his girlfriend several times in the face when he came home and found that she had not prepared dinner.

'I needed the money'

To avoid detection in a burglary, Morales shot several dogs at a wildlife center in Florida on June 21, 1996, and stole almost $250,000 worth of wildlife. He was arrested a few days later after selling four of the exotic animals to an undercover police officer.

In November 1996, Morales was spotted walking through backyards and looking into windows of homes. Police took him into custody and seized a bag of cocaine and 11 lovebirds in a pillowcase found in Morales' car.

His bird addiction continued in October 1997. Police responded to a burglary in progress in Dade County when officers observed Morales at a residence trying to pry open a bird aviary that housed two Macaws valued at $4,000. Morales dropped his gloves and pillowcases and ran from officers.

After a brief pursuit, officers found Morales hiding in a kitchen cabinet at a home near the bird aviary.

Speaking in Spanish, Morales told the officers, "Forgive me, I needed the money."

In 2008, Morales pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman at an apartment near the Las Vegas strip in 2003. Then he was sent back to Florida to face other charges in a 2003 crime.

In Miami, Morales was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December after pleading guilty to sexual battery with a deadly weapon, burglary with assault and kidnapping in the 2003 case.

Four years ago, he was extradited to Miami from Las Vegas where he was in jail on charges of sexual assault. During the time he was in prison in Nevada, Miami police identified him as the rapist who had kidnapped and assaulted two women in the city's Little Havana section in 2003. He was convicted in Miami and sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he would have been required to serve if he was ever released by Nevada authorities. Miami-Dade was returning him to Nevada to serve out his term there.

While in a jail medical ward, Morales mutilated his genitals and scrawled words in blood on the wall. He underwent a psychological examination by doctors at a Nevada state mental hospital in Sparks, but he was found competent to stand trial, his attorney said.

Grapevine's Shemwell said Morale was said to have used considerable time behind bars "practicing how to get out of hand cuffs and fashioning edged weapons out of what ever he could find."

Neighborhood relieved

After being on edge since Monday, residents of a neighborhood near the southern shore of Lake Grapevine, said they are relieved the manhunt drama -- with a helicopter flying overhead and squad cars snaking through the area -- is over, especially after learning a neighbor's home could have been burglarized by Morales, a convicted sex offender. Some said they and their children used the wooded trails along the lake where he was discovered early Saturday.

"It was very surreal, you're just thinking, 'Is this really happening?'" asked Cynthia Cedielski, who lives next door to the home broken into on the 2100 block of Forest Hills Road.

Her doorbell rang at 11:30 p.m. Friday. It was the police, asking if she had heard glass breaking. They told her and her husband that Morales was believed responsible for the break in. Then they searched the grounds.

Cedielski said it was a reality check for her 16-year-old daughter. "I told her, 'Now you know why we don't want you to stay home alone.'" The youth had heard popping sounds, thinking it was fireworks at the time Morales was shot, her mother said.

Melissa Brown knew something was up late Friday.

"My dog was acting crazy. He was going in and out of the doggie door," said Brown, who lives not far from where Morales was shot. On edge, she turned on more lights and took two phones to her bedroom.

"I wasn't at all surprised. I sensed something last night," she said. "I am very relieved today. I walk around this neighborhood every day. I figured he was around this lake somewhere."

But she didn't learn of Morales' shooting until she got a call from her father on Saturday morning, asking, "Are you OK?"

"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.

"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."

Staff writer Susan McFarland contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives and The Miami Herald.

Lee Williams, 817-390-7840

Twitter @leewatson

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