Jury: Arizona convict eligible for death penalty - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Jury: Arizona convict eligible for death penalty

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) -

A federal jury says Arizona inmate John McCluskey is eligible for the death penalty for murdering an Oklahoma couple during his 2010 prison break.

The jury in Albuquerque says McCluskey meets the criteria for a death sentence for his conviction last month on capital murder, carjacking and other charges stemming from the kidnapping and murders of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, OK. The couple was passing through New Mexico in August 2010 on a camping trip to Colorado.

To spare McCluskey the possibility of execution, the defense called several neurological experts in support of their argument that he is incapable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions.

The jury now returns for more testimony before deciding whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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.

Prior to the jury's decision, defense attorney Teri Duncan, however, appealed to them 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 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.

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