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Texas escapees exploited flaws in death row prison

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HOUSTON -- Seven convicted killers were able to escape from death row on Thanksgiving night by taking advantage of design flaws in the prison and poor supervision by guards, authorities said.

A report by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and others found that the Ellis Unit near Huntsville has inadequate lighting and fences and other problems that may require death row inmates to be transferred to a newer prison.The warden, Bruce Thaler, has been demoted and transferred. The 26-year veteran of the corrections department had been warden at Ellis for about seven years. His two assistants were transferred.

"Failure to make sure policies and procedures were followed," agency executive director Wayne Scott said in explaining the ousters. "If the staff on duty had performed correctly, this wouldn't have occurred."

Disciplinary actions, which could be as severe as firing, are pending against at least three uniformed officers.

The inmates escaped Nov. 26. Six were stopped by gunfire from guards in two security towers. Martin Gurule, 29, managed to climb over two 10-foot fences and became the first inmate to escape from Texas' death row in 64 years.

His body was found a week later in a creek a couple of miles from the prison. An autopsy determined that he had drowned.

According to the report, staffing was below minimum requirements because sergeants had allowed too many officers to have the night off, then allowed others to leave early.