FILE – This Aug. 19, 2010 file photo provided by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office shows Arizona inmate John Charles McCluskey after he was captured at a campsite in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Ariz. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for convicted killer John McCluskey are scheduled to deliver closing arguments Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in the first phase of his sentencing trial. It will be up to jurors to decide whether the death penalty will be an option as they consider punishing McCluskey for the August 2010 slayings of an Oklahoma couple following his escape from an Arizona prison. (AP Photo/Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, File)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Anything less than execution for an Arizona convict who killed an Oklahoma couple in 2010 would not be justice, federal prosecutors told jurors Wednesday at the start of the third and final phase of John McCluskey’s capital murder trial.
McCluskey’s defense team, meanwhile, argued their client’s life should be spared, saying the prosecution shouldn’t [auth] diminish the idea of him serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison without the possibility of release.
McCluskey, 48, was convicted last month of carjacking resulting in death, witness tampering by causing death and other charges in the slayings of McCluskey killed the retired couple just days after escaping from a medium-security prison in Arizona.
Jurors are expected to hear weeks of additional testimony before deciding whether McCluskey should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The victims’ family members and friends were in court Wednesday as prosecutors urged jurors to weigh what would be a just punishment and whether that punishment would protect others from McCluskey.
Aside from highlighting McCluskey’s criminal past, prosecutor Greg Fouratt said jurors also needed to learn something about the Haases, high school sweethearts who had been married for more than 40 years and were expecting their first grandchild.
Fouratt said their murders have had a devastating effect on their family and friends.
“Nothing will mitigate what he did to Gary and Linda Haas,” Fouratt said. “The only sentencing option you have that imposes a meaningful punishment on a man who is already facing years and years of prison time is to sentence him to death. Anything less is no justice at all.”
McCluskey, fellow escaped prisoner Tracy Province and McCluskey’s cousin and girlfriend, Casslyn Welch, targeted the Haases for their pickup truck and travel trailer after spotting the couple at a rest stop near the New Mexico-Texas border.
Within an hour of being carjacked at gunpoint, the Haases were dead. Their charred remains were found days later among the wreckage of their burned out trailer. Welch and Province, who pleaded guilty in the case last year, named McCluskey as the triggerman.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell tried to counter the prosecution’s argument that McCluskey is callous and has shown no regard for human life by recounting his client’s troubled childhood, spent growing up in a mining and ranching community in rural Arizona under the strict rule of an abusive father.
“He was a broken child. It was common knowledge in the community,” he said.
Saying that McCluskey did not choose to have brain damage or to be abused, Mitchell asked jurors to “look to science and medicine rather than the vengeance of the death penalty” to cure and heal McCluskey and people like him.
Steve Walker, a longtime friend of Gary Haas, said Wednesday before the proceedings that there can be no punishment other than death for someone who takes a life in the way McCluskey killed the Haases.
“He was like my brother,” Walker said of Gary Haas. “The camaraderie we had was special. I miss him every day.”
Prosecutors plan to call Walker and other family members to the stand over the next couple of weeks, while the defense has indicated it plans to call childhood friends of McCluskey as well as medical experts.