The Norman Transcript

September 21, 2013

N.M. murder trial wraps up

By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a hot summer day at a rest stop on the plains of eastern New Mexico. Two Arizona fugitives and their accomplice were trying to figure out what their next move was going to be to stay ahead of the law.

What’s not clear is who first saw that truck and well-appointed travel trailer sitting in the parking lot, and who hatched the plan to target the Oklahoma couple that the rig belonged to.

Defense attorneys for John McCluskey, the convict accused of killing the couple, have spent hours hammering away at inconsistencies in the accounts of key prosecution witnesses. However, their cross-examinations have yet to make the witnesses waver from accusations that McCluskey was the triggerman.

The fourth week of testimony in McCluskey’s capital murder trial wrapped up Thursday with the questioning of accomplice Casslyn Welch. She spent days detailing the preparation for the escape from a medium security prison near Kingman, Ariz., a drug smuggling operation that financed the prison break, and the abduction and shooting deaths of Gary and Linda Haas, of Tecumseh, Okla.

The trial resumes Monday after a three-day break. Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case with testimony from a ballistics expert and an FBI agent.

Welch, who is McCluskey’s cousin and girlfriend, was in tears before she started testifying Monday and got choked up several times while on the stand.

Under questioning by McCluskey’s lawyers, she admitted to lying under oath and not being truthful with federal investigators and prosecutors.

She said her attitude following her arrest was “deplorable” and she regretted helping with the escape and making derogatory references about the Haases during interviews with authorities.

But she did not back down on the most important detail.

“Have you ever identified anyone other than John McCluskey as the person who shot and killed Gary and Linda?” Prosecutor Greg Fouratt asked.

“No, sir,” Welch said.

After presenting a parade of forensic experts and law enforcement agents along with dozens of crime scene photos and recorded conversations, prosecutors are set to wrap up their case early next week.

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