Murder Trial in Eastern New Mexico Case Enters Final Stages

Closing arguments started Tuesday morning with prosecutors portraying McCluskey as the mastermind in the cold-blooded killing of a vacationing Oklahoma in eastern New Mexico.
By Gabrielle Burkhart / KRQE-TV

The nearly two-month federal murder trial of prison escapee John McCluskey is nearing an end.

Closing arguments started Tuesday morning with prosecutors portraying McCluskey as the mastermind in the cold-blooded killing of a vacationing Oklahoma in eastern New Mexico.

Prosecutors spoke for two hours before the defense began its argument.

More than three years after the murders off Interstate 40 near Santa Rosa, the jury is expected to begin deciding McCluskey's fate on Wednesday.

McCluskey is accused of killing Gary and Linda Haas as they were traveling through New Mexico after he and two accomplices escaped from an Arizona prison with the help of McCluskey's cousin and fiancée Casslyn Welch.

The couple was found dead from gunshot wounds inside of the burned wreckage of their camper trailer.  McCluskey, Tracy Province and Welch initially hijacked the couple for their truck and trailer but then tried to ditch the evidence, according to prosecutors.

The third escapee had split from the group shortly after the escape and was later captured.

Both Province and Welch testified McCluskey was the one who pulled the trigger, and it was their testimony prosecutors pointed to saying their statements were backed by physical evidence.

But the defense has attacked the accomplice's credibility pointing to Province's drug use and criminal history.

At midday the defense had yet to complete its closing argument.  Prosecutors will be given time for a rebuttal.

Under federal law McCluskey faces the death penalty if convicted.  He was serving time for attempted murder at the time of the escape from a private prison at Kingman, Ariz., in 2010.

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