ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A federal jury deliberating the sentence for Arizona inmate John McCluskey failed to reach a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, meaning the judge will sentence him to life in prison for murdering a retired Oklahoma couple.
It will close the final chapter on a brazen Arizona prison break and multistate Bonnie and Clyde-style crime spree.
Fingered by a fellow fugitive and accomplice fiancee as the triggerman, McCluskey was the only suspect to face the death penalty for the August 2010 slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., high school sweethearts and recent retirees who had the misfortune to cross the fugitives’ paths on a New Mexico highway.
During the four-month trial, the defense argued that McCluskey should not be executed because brain damage, abuse and addictions made him incapable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions when he shot the Haases for a more comfortable ride.
Prosecutors asserted that the only fitting punishment was death because he was dangerous and remorseless, a cold-blooded killer.
Jurors deliberated for nearly four days before deciding they couldn’t agree on the sentence. A sentencing date has yet to be set.
McCluskey was smiling and talking to his attorneys after the judge read the jury sheet, knowing that he wouldn’t be facing execution.
“We understand how tragic this is for the victims’ family. We still offer our condolences,” defense attorney Gary Mitchell said after the decision was announced. “But we are extremely appreciative of the jurors who voted for life. … We’re thankful for John’s life.”
Haas family members left the court quietly, saying they didn’t want to comment on the jury’s decision.
Linda Rook, the sister of Gary Haas, said from her home in Missouri that she knew jurors worked hard but she was disappointed they couldn’t reach a decision.
“What kind of crime does it take to get the death sentence? How many people does he have to kill?” she said.
Prosecutors released a statement Wednesday, saying they hoped McCluskey’s convictions and the fact that he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole offer some comfort and closure to the victims’ family and friends.
The murders marked just the beginning of three years of tragedy for the Haas family. Gary Haas’ mother, 83-year-old Vivian Haas, lost her home in the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011. Rook’s husband died of cancer. And Gary and Linda’s daughter was found shot to death in Oklahoma this year. Her husband has been charged with murder.
The victims were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were killed three days after the prison break funded by a drug smuggling ring McCluskey and his fiancee ran in the prison.
McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he and two other prisoners staged a daring escape 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 went his own way following the killings and was caught in Wyoming seven days later. But Welch and McCluskey remained on the lam, drawing comparisons to the legendary Bonnie and Clyde.
Province and Welch pleaded guilty last year to carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, use of a firearm during a violent crime and other charges. They both fingered McCluskey as the triggerman.
Welch acknowledged throwing cutting tools onto the prison grounds. McCluskey, Province and Daniel Renwick used the tools to break through a perimeter fence and flee into the desert. Welch also supplied the men with guns and money, and Renwick with a getaway vehicle.
While Renwick went his own way, the other three kidnapped a pair of truck drivers and commandeered their rig until they reached McCluskey’s ex-wife and persuaded her to give them a ride to a getaway car at McCluskey’s mother’s house.
Three days later, tired and hot from driving a small car 1,000 miles with no air conditioning, they set out to find a better vehicle. Testimony showed they spotted the Haases, who were making their 11th annual trek to Colorado to go fishing, at an eastern New Mexico highway rest stop.
Within an hour, the Haases were dead. Their charred remains were found among the wreckage of their burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.
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