The Norman Transcript

State/Region

November 4, 2013

NM jury to decide if death penalty is an option

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John McCluskey is not the vicious pit bull or three-time loser that prosecutors have made him out to be, according to his defense attorneys. Rather, they said Monday that the Arizona inmate convicted of killing an Oklahoma couple while on the run in New Mexico is a remorseful animal lover unable to properly reason because of his abusive childhood and brain defects.

“Like all of us in this room, he is a human being,” attorney Teri Duncan said in closing arguments in the first phase of McCluskey’s sentencing trial in federal court. “With flaws, but a human being nonetheless.”

She said jurors should spare McCluskey the death penalty out of understanding of how his brain works and his inability to control his impulses.

Prosecutor Michael Warbel, however, argued that McCluskey was thinking clearly when he planned his escape from prison and the resulting violent rampage that included the carjacking and murders of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., as they passed through New Mexico in August 2010 on an annual camping trip to Colorado.

Warbel reminded jurors that in the first phase of the sentencing trial they are simply deciding whether McCluskey is eligible for the death penalty, not whether to impose it.

McCluskey, 48, was convicted by the same jury on Oct. 7 of 20 counts of aggravated murder, carjacking and other charges.

The panel began deliberating his eligibility for the death sentence Monday.

In an effort to spare McCluskey from the possibility of execution, the defense called several neurological experts over the last week in support of their argument that McCluskey is incapable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions due to brain abnormalities, emotional and physical abuse, and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Duncan said McCluskey loves dogs and horses, and as a teen got a job at a horse track until his father made him quit because of “alcohol issues.”

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