Breaking Out For Love

3.12.2009

By Steve McVicker

During a five-year period, Russell escaped four times from Texas prisons and jails. Each escape was nonviolent. Each was on a Friday the 13th. And each was more audacious than the last. While being held in the Harris County Jail in 1992, for example, Russell managed to stow away some civilian clothes and snatch a walkie-talkie from the jail's sick bay. Dressed as a workman, he tapped the walkie-talkie on the window of a jail checkpoint and was waved through to freedom.

In 1996, following his arrest on the embezzlement charge, Russell's bond was set at $900,000. After gaining access to a nonsecure telephone, he called the district clerk's office, posing as a state district judge, and said he was lowering Mr. Russell's bond to $45,000. The bogus order was never questioned, and he was a free man again.
In December of that year, Russell used green felt-tip pens and a sink full of water to dye his white prison uniform green and then walked out of a state prison disguised as a doctor.

But Russell's last escape was definitely his most ingenious. Over nearly a year, Russell ate next to nothing and became emaciated and incontinent. It was enough to convince state prison officials -- who didn't run their own medical tests -- that he was dying of AIDS and win him a transfer to a south Texas nursing home. From there he called both the director of the nursing home and the head of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. He told both men that he was an AIDS specialist in Houston and that he would like Mr. Russell to participate in an experimental treatment program in a private clinic in Houston. Both men agreed. Russell then had the father of a fellow inmate pick him up at the nursing home and drive him to a nearby car lot, where he'd arranged to purchase a vehicle over the phone some weeks earlier.

A few weeks after his release -- ostensibly to the AIDS clinic -- parole and nursing home officials were informed by phone that, unfortunately, Mr. Russell had died during the treatment. And once again, Russell was on the run. Until, that is, his all-consuming love for Morris led authorities back to him.

On this occasion, after convincing state and nursing home authorities that he was dead, Russell obtained a Texas state bar card that attorneys used to identify themselves. He manipulated the ID and had Morris moved from a state prison to the Dallas County Jail, where Russell wouldn't be recognized. After the transfer, he brazenly and repeatedly used the card to pose as an attorney and visit Morris. It was Russell's in-your-face style at its finest, but authorities would later review videotapes of those visits in their successful search for him.

'I do love Phillip Morris,' Russell said during our most recent interview. 'But I don't see how it would be possible for the two of us to ever be together again.'

Even if Russell does win a parole, a reunion between them seems unlikely since any parole would be likely to come with a stipulation that they have no contact.

'People may feel sorry for Steven and feel he is being overpunished and all that,' says Terry Jennings, who prosecuted Russell as an assistant district attorney in Harris County. 'But the problem with Steven is that you really can't trust him. You have to be on guard about feeling sorry for the guy. No one is ever going to trust him again -- because he will make a fool of you.'

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