ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The fate of an Arizona inmate who kidnapped and murdered a retired Oklahoma couple following a 2010 prison break went to the jury Wednesday, the final phase in a rare and lengthy New Mexico death penalty trial.
In closing arguments, prosecutors portrayed John McCluskey as a dangerous, remorseless, cold-blooded killer who deserves nothing less than execution for the August 2010 slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., as they passed through the state.
A life sentence for John McCluskey "would be like putting a child in the corner," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Warbel argued.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell, however, told jurors McCluskey "is a human, he's a man." Mitchell said McCluskey has a low IQ and has suffered a hard life of abuse, brain damage, a prison rape and addiction.
McCluskey shouldn't have to pay the ultimate price "because the good Lord didn't bless him with what you and I have," Mitchell said.
"Life in prison without release is more than sufficient," Mitchell told the jury. "It's a horrific sentence."
McCluskey, 48, was convicted in October of murder, carjacking and other charges in the slayings of the high school sweethearts and recent retirees, who were making their 11th annual trek to Colorado to go fishing.
Warbel said serious crimes deserve serious punishment.
"The defendant wants you to sentence him to life in prison," he said. Warbel noted McCluskey is a repeat violent criminal who has spent much of his life behind bars and is used to a routine that includes meals, coffee, showers and exercise.
"Don't give the defendant what he's asking for. Give him what he deserves."
The case was sent to the jury late Wednesday, four months after the panel was seated to hear what was only the second federal death penalty case in the state in a decade. New Mexico outlawed the death penalty for state crimes in 2009.
Much of the three-phase trial focused less on whether McCluskey was guilty than whether he was capable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions when he kidnapped and killed the couple.
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 his cousin and fiancee, Casslyn Welch.
One of the inmates was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado. McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province headed to New Mexico, where they kidnapped the Haases for their truck and travel trailer.
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.
The victims were recent retirees from General Motors. The slayings happened three days after the prison break that Welch testified was funded by a drug smuggling ring she and McCluskey ran for prison inmates.
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