Escaped killer caught, sentenced to life

Donnie Ray Westbrook is back in custody.
Donnie Ray Westbrook is back in custody.

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

HENDERSON COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Convicted murderer, Donnie Ray Westbrook, has gotten a life prison sentence, less than 24 hours after he escaped from custody in Henderson County.

Westbrook broke free Tuesday night, just moments after he was found guilty of killing a man in Payne Springs last November.

Westbrook was convicted of fatally stabbing Jerry Huff, and moments later, unrestrained and with just one deputy with him, Westbrook made his move and went on the run. Donnie Westbrook walked into the Regal Sterling Monument Company just after 11:20 Wednesday morning, asking if he could use the phone.

"It was a little nerve racking," said David Arnold. "It was pretty fast."

"I was just trying to stay calm and was hoping that he wouldn't threaten me," said Craig Rhoton.

"I felt we had to move fast because we had no idea what he might do," said Arnold.

Arnold says Westbrook initially tried to make two phone calls, but neither went through. Westbrook stepped outside for a moment, and then returned. When he returned he identified himself.

"He came back in and told me that he wanted to give himself up and asked me to call the sheriff's department," said Arnold. "So, police and the sheriff department came and actually arrested him right here in this place."

Regal Sterling Monument is less than a block away from where Westbrook escaped last night. After he was convicted of murder, a sheriff's deputy escorted him out of the courtroom, transporting him to a holding cell. But, he never made it there. Westbrook wasn't cuffed or shackled which allowed him to slip away.

"There's a side door, which all you have to do is hit and you're out of it," said Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt. "It don't have an inside lock that you have to punch of a key or a key pad. It's just one of those doors like a fire escape door. You hit it and you're out. And, he hit it and he was out."

"It's been a great deal of manpower from multiple agencies to get this guy back in custody," said Nutt after Westbrook was back in custody. "[I am] very relieved because I was worried about the citizens of Henderson County and the people he might put in danger."

Jimmy Dale, a friend of Westbrook's, says he didn't blame Donnie for running.

"If you have one more night of freedom for the rest of your life, would you run?" said Dale. "I most definitely would. I believe. Any man in his right mind see's an exit, you're going to run for it."

But, this time, the convict was caught. Initially, Westbrook's attorney tried to delay the sentencing, saying that Westbrook was not of sound mind. However, the judge ruled that the events of the past 20 hours weren't cause enough for the sentencing to be postponed.

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