Arizona convict awaits fate as jury deliberates - New York News

Arizona convict awaits fate as jury deliberates

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John McCluskey John McCluskey

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Jurors went home Thursday after deliberating for seven hours without a reaching a verdict in the case of an Arizona convict who authorities say escaped from prison and killed an Oklahoma couple, leaving their charred remains along with their burned-out travel trailer on a remote New Mexico ranch.

John McCluskey is the last of three defendants to face federal charges in the August 2010 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. Prosecutors say McCluskey and two other fugitives targeted the couple when their paths crossed at a rest stop near the New Mexico-Texas state line.

The jury began deliberating Thursday morning, the day after hearing closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys. They will resume their deliberations Monday, court officials said.

Prosecutors spent weeks presenting to the jury dozens of crime scene photographs, surveillance video, recorded interviews and the testimony of a parade of experts and witnesses, including McCluskey's cousin and girlfriend, Casslyn Welch, and his former prison bunkmate, Tracy Province.

McCluskey's attorneys brought a swift end to the weekslong trial when they announced last week that they would call no witnesses. Attorney Michael Burt said in closing arguments Wednesday that there was a "whole mountain of doubt" surrounding the moments in which the Haases were killed.

Burt also challenged the credibility of the prosecution's key witnesses, Welch and Province. He accused the two of changing their stories and being motivated by plea agreements in which they avoided the death penalty.

"John McCluskey is the perfect person to point the finger at," Burt told jurors. "He'll take the heat for Cassie and Province. You know, of course they're going to point the finger at him."

Prosecutors countered that all the evidence - including fingerprints and DNA on the murder weapon and statements McCluskey made to law enforcement agents during his arrest - points to McCluskey being the triggerman.

Prosecutor Greg Fouratt told jurors late Wednesday it was McCluskey who came out of the Haases' camper covered in blood. He also said McCluskey was the one wearing Gary Haas' John Deere baseball cap when authorities captured him and Welch at an Arizona campground.

"I just have to ask you guys: Who wears a dead man's hat?" Fouratt said to the jury. "Is this some kind of trophy? Is this like a keepsake or a memento? And doesn't that help you decide, as between the three of these people, who was the one who ended Gary Haas' life?"

The Haases were killed three days after Welch helped McCluskey, Province and another inmate escape from a privately run, medium security prison near Kingman, Ariz., authorities said. One of the inmates was caught a day later in Colorado. The search for Welch, McCluskey and Province sparked a nationwide manhunt.

McCluskey was serving a 15-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm.

After leaving Arizona, the trio drove through parts of New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma in a cramped car without air conditioning. According to testimony, they targeted the Haases for their truck and trailer.

Welch said the plan was not to kill anyone, but just to "get off the grid" and go into hiding.

At the time, prosecutors said McCluskey was angry after learning that two truck drivers the trio had kidnapped the night of the escape had gone to authorities. According to testimony, McCluskey wanted to kill the truckers to keep them from talking but was outvoted by Welch and Province.

Prosecutors contend McCluskey, wanting to leave no witnesses, intended to harm the Haases from the moment they were spotted at the rest stop.

According to testimony, the Haases were forced at gunpoint to drive west along Interstate 40. They were ordered off the highway and onto a two-lane road, where McCluskey is accused of taking them into the camper and shooting them despite assurances they would not be harmed. The Haases' truck, cash and guns were stolen and their camper was set on fire after being dumped in a remote spot.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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