ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Jury selection began Monday for an Arizona inmate who escaped from prison and is accused of killing a retired couple who was traveling through New Mexico.
John McCluskey is the last defendant to face federal carjacking and murder charges in the deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. The Haases were headed to Colorado for an annual camping trip when they were targeted for their truck and travel trailer.
McCluskey was one of three prisoners who escaped from a medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., in July 2010 with the help of his cousin and fiance, Casslyn Welch. One of the inmates was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado, while McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province embarked on a crime spree that sparked a three-week nationwide manhunt.
Province and Welch pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from the Haases' deaths and both face life sentences. They are expected to testify during McCluskey's trial.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if McCluskey is convicted.
McCluskey was brought into the courtroom before the first group of 12 prospective jurors entered for questioning Monday morning. After being unshackled, one of the members of his legal team helped him put on a tie and then he slipped on a black suit jacket. With his graying hair slicked back, he whispered to his attorneys at times and watched intently as prospective jurors were questioned about their views on everything from the television show "CSI" to the presumption of innocence, the death penalty and opinions about the U.S. Justice Department.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell also asked potential jurors whether they had any feelings about being impartial and fair in hearing the trial of a person who was a felon. McCluskey, who is facing 20 counts in connection with the Haases' slaying, was previously serving 15 years in Arizona for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm.
"The defense boils down to this ... No. 1, Mr. McCluskey did not kill the victims in this case. No. 2, he did not intend the victims be killed," Mitchell told the first panel of prospective jurors.