Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt described the deaths of a vacationing Oklahoma couple as the result of two separate road trips that collided in New Mexico — one by Gary and Linda Haas, leaving a modest country home, and the other by three men escaping an Arizona prison and the woman who helped them.
“This case is about the targeting, carjacking, shooting and incineration of a husband and wife…by the man who’s brought us together in this courtroom,” he said in the prosecution’s opening statement in the trial of John Charles McCluskey, who faces the death penalty if convicted of committing the crimes.
Fouratt said prosecutors plan to call 50 witnesses and show 100 exhibits to prove their case.
The trial before U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera is expected to take four months.
Michael Burt, the San Francisco attorney who is the lead defense lawyer for accused carjacker and murderer McCluskey, said his view of the events is that it is about individuals seeking freedom. The Haases were seeking the freedom of the open road before their lives were tragically were cut short, he said.
And the two primary witnesses — and his client’s co-defendants — were seeking freedom by cooperating with the prosecution.
But he said the government cannot prove that his client was the person who killed the couple.
He used graphs, charts and even a short clip from McCluskey’s cousin and girlfriend Casslyn Mae Welch to underscore his message that jurors should take a long hard look at Welch and Tracy Alan Province.
“Ask if the witnesses impress you as honest,” he said, directing them to look at drug use, memory, relationship with prosecutors and whether they made different statements out of court than they do in trial.
The courtroom was packed for the trial’s first day of testimony. Lines stretched outside the courthouse door by 8 a.m. for the scheduled 8:45 a.m. start time, and included jurors, defense attorneys and reporters.
Inside the courtroom, relatives of the Haases from Oklahoma occupied a front row.
The first witness, a friend with whom the couple was planning to camp, was scheduled to testify in the afternoon.