The Devil You Say

Was Jeffery Prible the cold-blooded murderer of an entire family? Or the gullible target of an opportunistic jailhouse informant?

The inmate did get help from another sought-after convict, former Houston criminal defense attorney J. Brent Liedtke, who was in on a 223-month sentence for conspiring to manufacture meth. As an 18-year lawyer, he was used to inmates approaching him for free counsel about their cases. When Prible began questioning him, Liedtke was surprised to learn that the convict hadn't realized he was entitled to a copy of the probable cause complaint that would detail the allegations against him.

Prible's mother made a copy of the complaint and other documents from the public case file and sent them to him. While it aided in assessing the evidence, the material also educated many of the other inmates about the specifics of the case. Liedtke said he personally knew of more than ten convicts who were shown the documents, and the ex-attorney was also unnerved to find Prible passing the papers around and talking about his defense.

"I told him to shut up," Liedtke said. "I told him people would come in and testify against him if he kept that stuff up."

Prosecutors taunted Prible about his looks at the trial.
Prosecutors taunted Prible about his looks at the trial.
Beckcom (left rear) admitted arranging a Thanksgiving photo with Prible and their mothers to show he was his confidant.
Beckcom (left rear) admitted arranging a Thanksgiving photo with Prible and their mothers to show he was his confidant.

Last December, Harris County prosecutors received a call from the Beaumont federal prison. Michael Beckcom had some important information for them, and a proposal.

He knew about the murders of five people, he said, in a lengthy statement that would certainly crack the thin case against the defendant.

Beckcom, by virtue of his agreement with authorities in the Ingleside murder, was supposed to be a marked man, the target of potential revenge for ratting on his former boss, Crawford. However, that hardly seemed to be the case as he told of how he'd started to assemble his secret information: Beckcom was lounging with his workout partner Bobby Williams on the prison's recreation yard bleachers, taking in some sun while listening to his portable radio.

Prible walked up and began making idle conversation. He'd known Williams because Prible's first ex-wife had later married Williams. Prible and Beckcom talked about their past work for gyms and spas, then Prible turned to questions about how Beckcom had handled his initial capital murder charge. Soon, Prible became a regular in conversations with Beckcom and his friend Nathan Foreman during the rec breaks.

Beckcom's later statement to authorities outlined assorted confessions by Prible, all couched with varying degrees of dramatic interpretation by the convicted murderer:

Prible delighted Beckcom and Foreman with one of his more requested stories from the bank heist spree. Seems he was headed to an appointment at the 77-SMILES dentist and noticed a bank near the clinic. "He decided, 'Fuck it,' so he pulls into the bank, goes in and robs it." Then Prible simply moved his car in the lot, changed shirts and made the dental appointment while cops swarmed over the bank.

Beckcom was regaled with more stories. There was the nightclub operator who'd refused to pay for a $35,000 paving job. Prible had armed himself and gone for the money at the club, but was turned away by either police or security guards.

According to the Beckcom statement, Prible told about how, as an elite "Black Ops" marine, he had gone on missions into other countries "and maimed and killed and mutilated people to look like some other cartel had done it. I did this for my country."

He'd tipped federal agents to large fields of marijuana plants. He even killed for his friend Steve Herrera, and, why, Steve himself had killed before. Prible feared most that the prosecution would find the ultra-secret military SRB -- Service Record Book -- listing the covert "operations and kills."

The ten-page statement took on the tone of a dime-store detective novel at times, complete with Beckcom's exclamation points. Beckcom claimed he cleverly led Prible into discussions of the crime, then backed off until just the right moment to make fresh inquiries.

According to Beckcom, Prible said Herrera had screwed him out of $250,000 and planned to kill him, so he killed him first. Tirado ran for the telephone to call the police, so he shot her on the couch. "The only thing he didn't say, and seemed afraid to say to us for fear of us losing respect for him, was whether he has sex with her before or after he shot her," the statement said. Pressed on how he pulled it off, Beckcom claimed Prible replied, "Anybody that can go into a house, take out a whole family and get out clean is a bad muthafucker. I'm that kind of muthafucker."

"He said his mom's house was a couple of miles from there, that's what he was trained for," Beckcom concluded his statement. "High-speed, low drag; in and out. He said, 'I'm a ghost.' "

Investigators, who had compiled mostly drab circumstantial pieces of evidence, now had an electrifying narrative; Beckcom had conveniently wrapped up motives and macabre elements in one tidy statement.

Even if others had strong doubts about what really had been delivered, Beckcom got his deal.

There were obvious falsehoods in the alleged Prible confession. He'd had no post-bank-heist visit to a dentist's office, although Prible readily conceded that he'd created that tale to delight inmate audiences.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets