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Murder defense rests case

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Without calling a single witness to the stand, defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the capital murder trial of an Arizona convict accused in the slayings of an Oklahoma couple who were abducted from a New Mexico rest stop and burned after being shot to death.

John McCluskey’s attorneys made the announcement after federal prosecutors finished questioning their last witness, bringing an abrupt end to more than four weeks of testimony.

Closing arguments are expected Monday, when jurors return from a four-day break.

McCluskey is facing federal carjacking and murder charges in the Aug. 2, 2010, deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. If convicted, he faces either life in prison or the death penalty.

After presenting a parade of forensic experts and law enforcement agents, along with dozens of crime scene photos and recorded conversations, prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday with testimony from Marcus McCaskill, one of the federal agents involved in the multistate investigation.

Prosecutors had also called to the stand two key witnesses: McCluskey’s cousin and girlfriend, Casslyn Welch, and his former prison bunkmate, Tracy Province. Both admitted their roles in carjacking the couple and disposing of their bodies, but they testified it was McCluskey who pulled the trigger.

The slayings occurred three days after Welch said she helped McCluskey, Province and another inmate escape from a privately run, medium security prison near Kingman, Ariz.

One of the inmates was caught a day later in Colorado. The search for Welch, McCluskey and Province sparked a nationwide manhunt.

According to testimony, the trio targeted the Haases for their truck and well-appointed travel trailer after having fled through three states in a cramped car without air conditioning. Welch testified the plan was never to kill anyone, just to “get off the grid” and go into hiding.

Prosecutors have said the Haases were forced at gunpoint to drive west along Interstate 40 and exit onto a lonely two-lane road. After turning the truck and trailer around, the Haases were taken into the trailer. Welch and Province said they were outside when they heard gunshots.

Welch told jurors last week that McCluskey allegedly told her he shot the couple because they lied to him about having guns inside the trailer. She described him as a pit bull and said she had seen less “set him off.”

Defense attorneys spent hours trying to discredit various details of the accounts given by Welch and Province. They implied Province’s memory might have been clouded by his drug use, while they accused Welch of lying under oath about her efforts to smuggle drugs into the Arizona prison where McCluskey was serving the first year of a 15-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder. The drug smuggling operation helped finance the prison break, Welsh said.

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