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

Posted Sunday, Feb. 17, 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 sticks before he was fatally shot early Saturday in heavy woods 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 lasted for four days before Morales -- who had vowed he would never return to prison -- was discovered in the woods around midnight Friday.

Morales was shot about 12:25 a.m. Saturday after police had responded to a report of a burglary about two hours earlier, Eberling said.

He was still wearing his prison-issued hooded sweatshirt but had donned long jogging pants, replacing the shorts in which he had escaped, said officer Sam Shemwell, a police 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 to find the break-in, Eberling said.

Officers said that men's clothes and jewelry were missing. Eberling said it's not known whether Morales was the burglar.

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 Fort Worth police helicopter was called in.

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

Once he was 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 as he lunged, Eberling said.

Eberling said officers were well aware that Morales "was very skilled and crafty as far as making makeshift ... weapons."

"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 police do not know whether Morales had been hiding in the woods since escaping Monday or 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.

The burglary victims, Teresa and Brian Parker, had just returned after spending the evening out. Brian Parker immediately realized that something was wrong because their lights were on and a bathroom window was broken.

He also noticed the 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

is out of 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 of other passengers. 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 a Wal-Mart, leaving only Detective Jaime Pardiñas to guard the slight, 5-foot-7 Morales.

While Carrero was away, Morales slipped 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.

In a 911 call, Pardiñas told the dispatcher that he had been stabbed in the neck and that Morales was "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 the scent, she said.

Badly wounded, Pardiñas was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Doctors discharged him Saturday morning, hospital spokeswoman April Foran said.

Police said he had deep stab wounds in the neck, shoulder and back, as well as a collapsed lung. KTVT/Channel 11 reported that 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 a fascination with stealing exotic birds.

He hid in a kitchen cabinet after he tried 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 pillowcase -- 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 his client claimed that he suffered a severe brain injury at age 17 when he was hit 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 possessing 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 made dinner.

'Forgive me, 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 back yards and looking into windows.

Police took him into custody and seized a bag of cocaine and 11 lovebirds in a pillowcase found in his 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 an aviary that housed two macaws valued at $4,000.

Morales dropped his gloves and pillowcases and ran.

After a brief pursuit, officers found Morales hiding in a kitchen cabinet at a nearby home.

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.

While 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 extradited to Florida.

He was convicted in Miami and 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. He would have been required to serve that time if Nevada authorities had ever released him.

Miami-Dade was returning him to Nevada to serve out his term there.

Once, 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 mental hospital, but he was found competent to stand trial, his attorney said.

Grapevine's Shemwell said Morales was said to have used his considerable time behind bars "practicing how to get out of handcuffs and fashioning edged weapons out of whatever 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 that the manhunt drama -- with a helicopter flying overhead and squad cars snaking through the area -- is over, especially after learning that a neighbor's home might 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?'" said Cynthia Cedielski, who lives next to the burglarized home.

Police rang her doorbell at 11:30 p.m. Friday and asked whether 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.'"

At the time Morales was shot, the youth heard popping and thought it was fireworks, her mother said.

Melissa Brown knew something was up late Friday.

"My dog was acting crazy. He was going in and out of the doggy 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 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," Police Chief Eddie Salame said Saturday, hours after Morales was killed.

"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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