ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – One of three inmates who broke out of an Arizona prison and a woman who helped them escape pleaded guilty Friday in the slayings of an Oklahoma couple who were carjacked in New Mexico while the escapees were on the run.
Tracy Province, 44, and Casslyn Welch, 45, who has acknowledged her role in the prison break, faced murder charges and could have faced the death penalty in the 2010 slayings of Gary and Linda Haas.
Province and Welch agreed to plead guilty to charges of carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, the use of a firearm during a violent crime and other charges.
As part of Province’s deal, he agreed to serve at least five consecutive life terms. Welch faces up to life in prison on at least two of the counts, according to prosecutors.
Three relatives of the victims were in court for the hearing, where prosecutors detailed what happened on or about Aug. 2, 2010.
Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, from Tecumseh, Okla., had stopped at a rest stop just inside the New Mexico state line. They were on their way to Colorado for an annual camping trip.
Province and another escaped inmate _ Welch’s cousin and fiance, John McCluskey _ forced themselves into the cab of the Haases’ pickup. The inmates were armed with guns and had targeted the couple for their pickup and camping trailer, prosecutors said.
The couple were forced to drive west on Interstate 40 with the two inmates as Welch followed in another vehicle. The Haases were then ordered to pull off onto a two-lane road, stop and enter their trailer.
Prosecutors said Province and Welch waited outside while McCluskey went inside with the couple. Gunshots rang out and the husband and wife were killed.
The three then decided to drive the truck and trailer to a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico. There, they burned the trailer with the Haases’ bodies inside before driving off with the truck, the couple’s money and three of their handguns.
McCluskey remains jailed and is scheduled for trial in March 2013. He could face the death penalty if convicted. That decision will ultimately be made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Welch pleaded guilty last year in Arizona to state charges of helping McCluskey, Province and Daniel Renwick flee a medium-security prison near Kingman. The escape sparked a nationwide manhunt.
Welch acknowledged throwing cutting tools onto the prison grounds. The three inmates used the tools to break through a perimeter fence and flee into the desert. Welch had also supplied the men with guns and money, and Renwick with a get-away vehicle.
Renwick was captured a day later after a shootout in western Colorado.
Province, McCluskey and Welch found themselves without transportation. Authorities say they kidnapped two truck drivers at gunpoint and forcing the drivers to take them to Flagstaff.
Following the slayings in New Mexico, Province separated from McCluskey and Welch and was arrested about a week later in Wyoming.
Welch and McCluskey were arrested nearly three weeks later at an Arizona campsite after a U.S. Forest Service employee spotted their beat-up Nissan backed suspiciously into the trees.
Welch, Province and Renwick have resolved the Arizona charges related to the escape. McCluskey is appealing his convictions on the state charges.
Renwick pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted murder in the shootout and was sentenced to 60 years behind bars.
The escape had cast a critical spotlight on Arizona’s prison system. A report revealed a series of security breakdowns at the prison operated by Management and Training Corp., including alarms that went off so often that prison personnel just ignored them. The prison warden and a security official resigned.
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