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Jury deliberates in Arizona convict sentencing trial

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal jury on Tuesday was deliberating whether
Arizona convict John McCluskey is eligible for the death penalty for killing an
Oklahoma couple while he was on the lam after a prison break.

If they find he is ineligible, McCluskey automatically will be sentenced to
life without parole for the carjacking and murders of retirees Gary and Linda
Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., as they passed through New Mexico in August 2010 on an
annual camping trip to Colorado.

Prosecutor Michael reminded jurors Monday before they began deliberations that
in the first phase of the sentencing trial they are simply deciding whether
McCluskey’s past and most recent convictions meet the criteria for the death
penalty, not whether to impose it. It’s a fact-finding exercise, not an
emotional one, he said.

To be eligible for the death penalty under federal law, a person must have
committed a capital offense, have previous convictions for violent crimes and be
at least 18.

Defense attorney Teri Duncan, however, appealed to the jury to remember that
McCluskey is a human being, although a flawed one. She pointed to testimony from
neurological experts who said 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.

The same jury last month convicted McCluskey, 48, on 20 counts of aggravated
murder, carjacking and other charges.

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
McCluskey’s cousin and fiancee, Casslyn Welch.

One inmate was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado,
while McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province headed to New Mexico.

Testimony showed the trio, hot and cramped from three days in a small car
without air conditioning, targeted the Haases at a rest stop near the New
Mexico-Texas state line for their truck and travel trailer.

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


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