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Eleven years ago, the national spotlight swung this way, when the infamous Texas Seven outlaws were found hiding in Woodland Park.

Next week, the leader of that gang, George Rivas, 41, is scheduled to be put to death in Texas.

Local cold case virtuoso Charlie Hess, who in his 80s still snoops through police files to put two and two together, became pen pals with Rivas and his gang nearly a year ago. Hess wanted to know if they were responsible for any unsolved murders. He decided they're not, but in their correspondence — all five living members chose to write him back — the former CIA and FBI agent saw a story fit for print. Read more about the gang and Hess' book project by turning to this week's cover story, which begins here.

Whatever Hess and his co-authors write about the Texas Seven, the final chapter is being penned by the state of Texas — the most prolific executioner in the nation. When Rivas gets his deadly cocktail next week, he'll be the 480th person to be executed in the Lone Star State since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. (Anthony Bartee, 54, is scheduled to die the day before Rivas, on Feb. 28, for killing a man and stealing his motorcycle in 1996.)

While there's no question some innocents have gone to the gallows, Rivas isn't one of them. He long ago confessed that he alone killed Irving, Texas, police Officer Aubrey Hawkins after the prison break.

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