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McCluskey escapes death penalty

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By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — A federal jury deliberating the sentence for Arizona inmate John McCluskey failed to reach a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, meaning the judge will sentence him to life in prison for murdering a retired Oklahoma couple.

It will close the final chapter on a brazen Arizona prison break and multistate Bonnie-and-Clyde-style crime spree.

Fingered by a fellow fugitive and accomplice fiancee as the triggerman, McCluskey was the only suspect to face the death penalty for the August 2010 slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., high school sweethearts and recent retirees who had the misfortune to cross the fugitives’ paths on a New Mexico highway.

During the four-month trial, the defense argued that McCluskey should not be executed because brain damage, abuse and addictions made him incapable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions when he shot the Haases for a more comfortable ride.

Prosecutors asserted that the only fitting punishment was death because he was dangerous and remorseless, a cold-blooded killer.

Jurors deliberated for nearly four days before deciding they couldn’t agree on the sentence. A sentencing date has yet to be set.

McCluskey was smiling and talking to his attorneys after the judge read the jury sheet, knowing that he wouldn’t be facing execution.

“We understand how tragic this is for the victims’ family. We still offer our condolences,” defense attorney Gary Mitchell said after the decision was announced. “But we are extremely appreciative of the jurors who voted for life. ... We’re thankful for John’s life.”

Haas family members left the court quietly, saying they didn’t want to comment on the jury’s decision.

Linda Rook, the sister of Gary Haas, said from her home in Missouri that she knew jurors worked hard but she was disappointed they couldn’t reach a decision.

“What kind of crime does it take to get the death sentence? How many people does he have to kill?” she said.

Prosecutors released a statement Wednesday, saying they hoped McCluskey’s convictions and the fact that he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole offer some comfort and closure to the victims’ family and friends.

The murders marked just the beginning of three years of tragedy for the Haas family. Gary Haas’ mother, 83-year-old Vivian Haas, lost her home in the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011. Rook’s husband died of cancer. And Gary and Linda’s daughter was found shot to death in Oklahoma this year. Her husband has been charged with murder.

The victims were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were killed three days after the prison break funded by a drug smuggling ring McCluskey and his fiancee ran in the prison.