NM murder trial enters closing argument phase

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Escaped prisoner John McCluskey killed a retired Oklahoma couple in cold blood while he was on the run and should be convicted of capital murder for his 2010 crime spree, the prosecution said in closing arguments Tuesday.

“This is a man who was willing to shoot and kill to get what he wants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Mott told an Albuquerque jury.

McCluskey is being tried on federal carjacking, murder and other charges in the August 2010 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. The couple’s charred remains were found among the wreckage of their burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.

Mott told the jurors that the only possible verdict after a monthlong trial is guilty on all counts. Among the evidence, she said, are fingerprints and DNA on the murder weapon and inside the Haases’ stolen pickup truck.

“He did it in cold blood,” she said. “He did it to take their stuff. He did it not to leave witnesses and he did it to get away.”

Closing arguments by the defense were postponed until Wednesday due to an electrical problem that forced the closure of the courthouse.

Prosecutors rested their case last week after calling dozens of witnesses, including McCluskey’s cousin and girlfriend, Casslyn Welch, and his former prison bunkmate, Tracy Province. Both alleged in testimony that McCluskey was the triggerman.

Defense attorneys, without calling any witnesses of their own, tried to discredit Welch and Province. They accused the two of cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for leniency. Welch and Province pleaded guilty last year and face life sentences.

McCluskey, if convicted, faces either life in prison or the death penalty.

Mott acknowledged that the defense has portrayed Welch and Province as immoral, untrustworthy drug users. However, their stories about McCluskey shooting the couple have never wavered, Mott said, and it was not long ago that McCluskey considered Province a friend and Welch a lover.

“He trusted them with his life and his freedom. The government didn’t choose them as witnesses. He did,” she said, adding that jurors will have to be the judges of credibility and of the facts.

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

According to testimony, the trio targeted the Haases for their truck and trailer after having fled through three states in a cramped car without air conditioning. Welch testified the plan was never to kill anyone, just to “get off the grid” and go into hiding.

Prosecutors contend that McCluskey had intentions of harming the Haases from the moment he and his alleged accomplices spotted the retired couple at a rest stop near the New Mexico-Texas state line.

Mott detailed the events of Aug. 2, 2010, the day 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 that they would not be harmed.

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