ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cassie Welch’s testimony for the government didn’t earn her much real world benefit when she was sentenced Monday for her role in the carjacking and murder of the vacationing Oklahoma couple Gary and Linda Haas on Aug. 2, 2010.
Despite a defense request for a 20-year sentence and a prosecution acknowledgement that she had provided “substantial assistance” against co-defendants in the case, U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera found a sentence of 40 years to be appropriate.
Herrera calculated that Welch, 48 years old next month, would have faced life plus 85 years in prison had she not provided assistance.
But Mark Fleming, the San Diego attorney for Welch in what began as a death penalty case against three defendants, told the court that 40 years was a de facto life sentence for his client. He said it amounted to the same as the life sentence for John Charles McCluskey, the explosive prison escapee who was calling the shots when the Haases were abducted from a rest stop in eastern New Mexico, and the one who shot them and burned their bodies. Welch’s de facto sentence was also the same as Tracy Province, who had a prior murder conviction from Arizona.
Province was sentenced on Monday to a life sentence, as expected.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against McCluskey at trial, but when jurors were unable to reach unanimity on the punishment, his sentence automatically became life in prison. His sentence is to be imposed officially today.
At Welch’s hearing, statements were made by the victims’ families, including Linda Haas’ sister Sandra Morgan, who sat through most of the three-month trial.
Morgan said although Welch may not have pulled the trigger on her sister and brother-in-law, she is as responsible as the others by arranging for the prison escape of McCluskey and Province, and taking other actions related to the carjacking.
“She is evil. It’s plain and simple,” Morgan said.
Linda Rook, Gary Haas’ sister, called Welch “the enabler” whose actions helped cause the tragedy and who, soon after her arrest, made mocking comments about the murdered couple.
But Casslyn Mae Choat Welch came from generations of alcoholism and domestic violence, according to testimony from defense mitigation specialist Laurie Knight and forensic psychologist Eliot Rapoport. Welch was sexually abused by a stepfather when she was in the eighth grade, raped by another family friend and constantly endured isolation, domination or physical abuse.
Rapoport diagnosed her with “abandoned person syndrome,” formerly called Stockholm syndrome, in which the abused person comes to identify with his or her tormentor.
Welch’s attorneys also played squirm-inducing recorded phone calls from McCluskey in prison to Welch, working for minimum wage at his mother’s store, to underscore the point that he was manipulating, berating and threatening her even while behind bars – and making her apologize for perceived transgressions.
McCluskey apparently put out a contract to have the small trailer she lived in next to his mother’s store burned.
Province was sentenced minutes after Welch’s hearing ended to five consecutive life sentences – to be served in a witness protection program for federal prisoners – for his role in the slayings.
“I’d like to apologize to the friends and family of the Haases for all the pain I put them through, that’s all I have to say,” Province said in remarks similar to those offered by Welch.
In his plea agreement, Province waived his right to apply for compassionate release, so he is guaranteed to spend the rest of his life in prison, said Richard Winterbottom, Province’s attorney.
Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.