Ariz. inmate testifies in murder trial of John McCluskey

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The capital murder trial of an Arizona inmate accused of killing an Oklahoma couple after breaking out of prison resumed Monday with prosecutors calling a fellow inmate to testify about the escape and subsequent flight.

The prosecution's case against John McCluskey hinges partly on the testimony of inmate Tracy Province. The two, along with an accomplice who threw cutting tools onto the prison grounds, sparked a nationwide manhunt when they escaped from a medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., in 2010.

Province testified that it took three months to plan the escape but only three minutes to accomplish it that summer day

The inmates scaled one fence and cut wire and more fencing along the prison perimeter before they began searching for their getaway car, Province said.

"Once we didn't find the escape vehicle, the plan changed. We were flying off the cuff," he said.

Prosecutors say the trio kidnapped two truck drivers and commandeered their semi. After hitching another ride south, they picked up another car. They headed toward the Arizona-New Mexico state line where they camped.

Province, who had been serving life in prison, testified that he felt exhilarated despite not having heroin in days.

"A little while ago I was in prison. Now I'm standing in a wide open area free," he said.

Prosecutors say the trio targeted Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., at a rest stop near the Texas-New Mexico state line. Tired of driving more than 1,000 miles in their cramped get-away car, they wanted the couple's pickup truck and trailer.

The Haases were carjacked at gunpoint and forced to drive to a desolate spot along Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico. They were shot. Their bodies were burned along with their trailer and their truck was stolen.

Province is expected to testify for as many three days.

McCluskey's defense attorneys indicated in a recent motion they intend to challenge Province's credibility.

The defense also suggested in opening statements that years of drug use had clouded Province's memory and that he had incentive to testify for the prosecution to avoid the death penalty.

Province and the accomplice, Casslyn Welch, pleaded guilty last year to numerous charges stemming from the Haases deaths. Both face life sentences.

Welch, who is also McCluskey's cousin, is expected to testify in the coming weeks.

According to court documents, Province separated from McCluskey and Welch and was arrested in northwestern Wyoming about a week after the Haases were killed. Authorities said he was found with the Haases' backpack, a Bible, a gun, a knife and other supplies.

He told authorities his plan was to overdose on heroin at Yellowstone National Park, but he decided to try to hitchhike to Indiana instead.

Province was already serving life in prison for murder and robbery when the prison break happened.