Saturday, November 10, 2007

American myths

One of the great myths of America is that of a frontier country, a place where anyone can go and reinvent themselves, can become a part of society no matter what their background.

That has long been a myth of the country and was very strong myth of the SouthWestern US as I was growing up in Texas. No matter who badly you might screw up you can come to Texas and redeem yourself. That's the magic of the great story of the Alamo -- Crockett, Travis, and Bowie had all come to Texas to escape personal failures and even criminal prosecution in the case of Travis.

That's just not the way the country works anymore though. If you screw up there's nothing you can do about it. They'll get you eventually.
In the 33 years since her escape from a Georgia women's prison, Deborah Ann Gavin Murphey was able to evade authorities and keep most of her past to herself, carving out a small-town life in East Texas where she worked as a nurse and raised two children.

She offered a few clues about her past to her husband and partner of 32 years, Richard Murphey.

He knew she was a military brat and he had met members of her family.

And before they were married, he knew she had spent time in prison.

But he didn't learn the full story until this week, after federal agents arrested his wife at the couple's home in tiny Frankston, about halfway between Tyler and Palestine. It turns out, she walked out of the Georgia Women's Correctional Institution in 1974, where she was serving time for an armed robbery conviction.

"It's like a whirlwind around here," Murphey, 63, said Friday as he spent another day learning more about his wife while also trying to find her an attorney.

Deborah Murphey sits in the Anderson County Jail awaiting transfer back to Georgia.

"I seen her yesterday and she's not doing good," Murphey said of his wife.

On Wednesday, a federal fugitive task force arrested Deborah Murphey, 53, more than three decades after she simply walked away from prison — her sixth escape, authorities said.

The cold case had made it into the hands of Atlanta-based Jason Watson, a Georgia corrections employee assigned to the newly formed U.S. Marshal Service's Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, a few months ago.

Watson said Murphey's case had been open but no significant development pinpointing her whereabouts occurred until late September, when another member received a tip that she was living in Frankston.


Married in McKinney
The former Deborah Gavin was convicted of an armed robbery that she has since told her family she didn't commit.

"She was passed out in the back seat," Murphey said of the crime that landed his wife in prison. "She met this boy and this girl. When the car stopped, it was surrounded by police. She had found out they had stopped and robbed the store somewhere."

After her prison escape in 1974, she fled to Tennessee and Florida. She made her way to her mother's home in Irving, near Dallas the next year. While living there, Deborah Gavin met Murphey, a construction worker, through friends. He offered her a job as a construction helper at his job in Plano.

Shortly after the two became a couple in 1975, she told Murphey she had been in prison and had escaped at least once.

"I knew she had been in the pen and she had gotten out, went to Louisiana and then she got caught," Murphey said.

But she said nothing about her last escape until after the two were married by a McKinney justice of the peace in 1984.

"It was awhile after we got married," Murphey said. "I was kind of tongue-tied."

The couple eventually relocated to East Texas, where the woman with an eighth-grade education got into the University of Texas at Tyler, earning a nursing degree in 1994.

On her application for a Texas nursing license, Deborah Murphey checked the "No" box when asked: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than minor traffic violations?"

The Texas Board of Nursing Examiners did not do background checks at that time. Her license has since been renewed, but was to expire next year.

Background checks on nursing license applicants became mandatory in 2004. Murphey's record had not been checked at the time of her arrest this week, according to the board.

The couple had two children, a boy and girl, now grown. "They didn't know nothing until Wednesday," their father said.

Murphey did tell her husband that the prison was involved in a sex abuse scandal involving correctional officers and inmates. Officials confirm that a sex abuse scandal forced the prison to close in the 1990s. Murphey said he never asked his wife if she had been abused.

"She didn't tell me," he said. "I didn't want to know."

But one of her siblings, living in Oklahoma City, informed Murphey this week that she was sexually abused at the prison.


'The marshals are here'
Murphey worked as a nurse until two years ago, when a back injury forced her to quit her job at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. She's had heart problems and one kidney removed because of cancer.

She was home alone Wednesday.

The marshals' task force first posed as municipal workers to verify Deborah Murphey was indeed Gavin the fugitive.

Once they confirmed her identity, they regrouped and approached the two-story home again. They identified themselves and informed her she was about to be arrested.

She walked back into the house, telling officers she had to place the family dog, Roxy, in another room. She returned, Watson said, with a 12-gauge shotgun.

She told the officers she was afraid and would put down the gun if they let her talk to her husband.

Murphey was working in Tyler when his wife called to say she would not be home when he returned from work.

"She said: 'The marshals are here and they're going to arrest me,' " Murphey said.

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