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Republic of Texas Member Dies in Battle with Rangers

By Sue Anne Pressley
The Washington Post
FORT DAVIS, Tex.

One of two Republic of Texas members who fled into the mountains after refusing to surrender along with his comrades Saturday died in a gun battle Monday with state police.

Officials said police and search dogs had cornered the second man, who is also presumed armed, but as of Monday evening he was still at large.

The identity of the dead man was not immediately released. Richard F. Keyes III, 21, and Mike Matson, 48, had slipped away from the group's isolated headquarters in West Texas on Saturday afternoon as Texas Rangers were settling the last details of a surrender agreement with leader Richard McLaren and three others to end the week-long standoff. Authorities, who were focused on negotiations with McLaren, said they watched the men flee and decided at that sensitive moment to let them go.

It was not until Monday, however, that officials felt safe enough to allow about 30 bloodhounds from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with their handlers to begin nosing through the rugged terrain. On Sunday, Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, described the group's headquarters and surrounding area as an armed fortress with a dozen gasoline tanks, as many as 60 pipe bombs, eight stocked bunkers and numerous tripwires.

Monday's developments unfolded immediately after the dogs went to work about 8 a.m., according to Jo Schweikhard Moss, a DPS spokeswoman. Several of the dogs ran straight to a bush within a mile's distance from the group's headquarters and gave the alert signal, she said. The two men, apparently hiding together in a bunker near the bush, fired at the dogs, wounding one seriously in the chest and hitting another in the foreleg. Another dog apparently is missing, Moss said. Their human handlers were wearing bulletproof vests.

Then, shortly before 2 p.m., she said, there was more gunfire as the dogs again homed in on their target. "Once the suspects started shooting the helicopter crew overhead and the searchers shot back," she said, adding it was unclear who had fired the fatal shot.

Moss said the two men, who contrary to earlier reports had remained together, were dressed in camouflage clothing. They were equipped with several high-powered weapons, including a .30-30 deer rifle, a semiautomatic military-style rifle and a 9mm handgun.

Of the two, only Keyes had charges pending against him. He was wanted on state charges of organized criminal activity and kidnapping in connection with the April 27 kidnapping that sparked the standoff. Acting on apparent orders from McLaren, he and Gregg and Karen Paulson, a married couple who belonged to the group, shot their way into a neighborhood couple's home, holding them as "prisoners of war" for 12 hours. Joe and M.A. Rowe were freed after Texas Rangers arranged the release of another Republic of Texas member, Robert Scheidt, who had been picked up by local deputies that morning on misdemeanor weapons charges.

But what McLaren and his group most wanted, they insisted, was for officials to agree to a referendum on the issue of whether Texas should be part of the United States. The Republic of Texas movement is based on a disputed claim that Texas, then an independent country, was illegally annexed into the Union in 1845 by a joint resolution of Congress rather than a treaty.

Terry O'Rourke, McLaren's Houston-based attorney, said his client believes he gained some measure of victory with a provision in the "international cease-fire agreement" that would allow McLaren to argue his case in U.S. District Court in Washington.

McLaren, 43, and his common-law wife, Evelyn, 50, along with five other people, were indicted Monday on federal charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud, and aiding and abetting. The names of the five others were not released because they are not yet in custody, the Associated Press reported. The charges are in connection with the group's issuance of more than $1.8 billion in bogus Republic of Texas financial documents that were used to pay bills.

The state charges alone against McLaren could net him 99 years in prison. The federal charges carry a maximum penalty of 725 years in prison and $24.25 million in fines.