Closing arguments begin in Ariz. convict's death penalty trial

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John McCluskey By Catherine Holland John McCluskey By Catherine Holland

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Arizona inmate John McCluskey is a dangerous, cold-blooded killer who deserves nothing less than the death penalty for kidnapping and murdering a retired Oklahoma couple, prosecutors said Wednesday.

A life sentence for John McCluskey "would be like putting a child in the corner," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Warbel told jurors during closing arguments in McCluskey's death penalty trial.

"Serious crimes deserve serious punishment. The defendant wants you to sentence him to life in prison," Warbel said, noting that McCluskey has spent much of his life behind bars and is used to a routine that includes meals, coffee, showers and exercise.

McCluskey, 48, was convicted in October of murder, carjacking and other charges in the August 2010 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., as they passed through New Mexico.

The same jury that convicted him will decide whether McCluskey should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

McCluskey's defense team, meanwhile, said during closing arguments that their client was a human who had suffered a hard life of abuse and addiction.

"Life in prison without release is more than sufficient," attorney Gary Mitchell said. "It is a horrific sentence."

It was only the second federal death penalty case to be deliberated in the state in a decade.

New Mexico outlawed the death penalty for state crimes in 2009.

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 high school sweethearts and recent retirees from General Motors. They were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were killed.

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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