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State/Region

October 20, 2013

Penalty phase of trial opens

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The penalty phase opens Monday in the capital murder trial of John McCluskey, who faces a possible death sentence for the killings of an Oklahoma couple following a 2010 Arizona prison break.

Jurors who convicted McCluskey earlier this month after a four-month trial come back for what could be an even longer round of testimony on whether he should be executed or sentenced life in prison.

McCluskey, 48, was convicted Oct. 7 of murder, carjacking and other charges in the August 2010 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh.

They were making their annual summer trek to Colorado when they crossed paths with McCluskey and two other fugitives seeking a better vehicle for getaway.

McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he and two other prisoners escaped from a medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., in July 2010 with the help of his cousin and fiancee, Casslyn Welch.

One of the inmates was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado, while McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province headed to New Mexico. Their escape and ensuing crimes sparked a nationwide manhunt and an Interpol alert.

Province and Welch pleaded guilty last year to charges of carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, the use of a firearm during a violent crime and other charges.

They both fingered McCluskey as the triggerman.

The victims, who were high school sweethearts and recent retirees from General Motors, were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were killed three days after the prison break.

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