ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If there was anything remarkable about the Tuesday sentencing of a double murderer whose fate was already known – life in federal prison with no chance of release – it was the words of forgiveness from one victim’s sister.
Sandra Morgan made it clear that she cannot forget her older sister Linda Haas or her brother-in-law Gary Haas, victims of the tall skinny guy in a bright yellow state jumpsuit at the defense table.
The sudden decision by John Charles McCluskey, 48, on a hot summer day sent dozens of lives into a whirlwind. McCluskey, a prison escapee from Arizona, burned up their camper-trailer with their bodies in it – the one he’d carjacked only a few hours earlier – and went on a zigzag cross-country trip before finally being arrested at an Arizona campground three weeks later.
“How do you wake up each day with pain?” Morgan asked. “Sure, there’s counseling.” But memories come unbidden, she said, triggered by a song, a gesture, a photo.
Morgan said the hardest thing for her to overcome is the thought of how they spent their final day at the start of an annual camping/fishing trip to Colorado where they would meet with old friends, enjoy the scenery and take in the blessings of retirement before being carjacked at gunpoint and shot in rural eastern New Mexico.
The Haases’ daughter had such difficulties with the deaths that she “spiraled out of control,” and Morgan is now the guardian of the Haases’ grandson, born after the murders.
Morgan said that in the three years and 10 months she has had to think and learn about the awful events of August 2010, one word kept popping up in her mind: forgiveness.
After much thought and prayer, she said her deep Christian faith led her to a point where she has forgiven McCluskey, Tracy Province and Casslyn Welch, the trio responsible for the murders.
“I have no choice,” she said.
Province on Monday was given a life sentence, and Welch was given 40 years in prison.
Gary Haas’ sister, Linda Rook, and Erma Patrick, an aunt to the murdered couple, also spoke at McCluskey’s sentencing.
Patrick showed a photo of a memorial headstone for them, with a commemorative plaque acknowledging Gary Haas’ military service in Vietnam. She told McCluskey that although the legal case is over, it is not over for the family.
“We must deal with the loss for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Rook faced McCluskey defiantly, telling him about the invisible blows struck against her and Gary’s mother, who now cries daily although Rook only saw her cry once, ever, before that.
McCluskey was appropriately dressed in yellow, she said, the color of a coward who abused women to bend them to his will.
“What kind of man are you? I’ll answer. You are a disgrace to your mother, to your family, to society and to the human race,” she said.
McCluskey’s sole word to U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera was a curt “No” when she asked if he wished to speak.
The defense called no witnesses, and Herrera sentenced him to pay $3,820 in restitution to the Patricks.
For the 20 counts of the indictment on which he was convicted, she sentenced him to life plus 2,820 months in prison.
“If it weren’t for three votes on the jury, you’d be facing death today,” she said, referring to the lack of unanimity required for a federal sentence of death. She cautioned him not to take too much comfort in that.