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Republic of Texas Hostages Set Free in Prisoner Exchange

By Sue Anne Pressley
The Washington Post
FORT DAVIS, Texas

A couple held hostage as "prisoners of war" were released Monday morning after authorities arranged an unusual prisoner exchange with a separatist group demanding independence for Texas.

In a move that law enforcement officials have not fully explained, Joe and Margaret Ann Rowe were set free early Monday after police allowed a Republic of Texas member arrested on weapons charges to leave jail and return to the group's armed headquarters in these remote mountains of southwest Texas.

Richard McLaren, the ambassador of the group, and his followers still refused to surrender to authorities, beginning day two of a standoff that apparently has police in a quandary about how to avoid further bloodshed. Joe Rowe, 51, the head of a local property owners' association and a longtime critic of the group, was wounded by shrapnel Sunday as Republic of Texas members shot their way into his home.

In a news conference at the Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine, where her husband is in stable condition, Margaret Ann Rowe described how two men and a woman, burst into her home shortly before noon Sunday. She said she thought the attackers planned to kill them.

Trooper Richard Treece, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said that Robert Jonathan Scheidt, 43, identified as "captain of the embassy guard," was "used in the trade." In an interview Sunday with a San Antonio radio station, McLaren had demanded that Scheidt and a female member - arrested in Austin last week in connection with the group's filing of bogus liens - be released in exchanged for the Rowes' freedom. The woman, Jo Ann Turner, was still being held in jail Monday in lieu of $25,000 bond.

For many residents and officials in this isolated spot amid the stunning 7,000-foot peaks of the Davis Mountains, the news of McLaren's attack and subsequent standoff came as little surprise. Bert Parchman, 35, whose mother, Suzanne, a retired teacher, was at home inside the development, has known McLaren for 15 years and said he always considered him "a harmless nut." Now, like many, he is angry that McLaren was not arrested earlier.

"This man is not in his right mind," he said. "He stands no chance of winning. He might keep them at bay a few days, but the ultimate result is going to be prison or death."