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.