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Fugitive who killed couple dies in prison

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John McCluskey – an infamous New Mexico murderer whom federal prosecutors tried to put on death row – died in federal custody this week at 52.

John McCluskey

John McCluskey

Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, said McCluskey died Tuesday after spending time in a maximum-security federal prison outside Florence, Colo.

Prison officials didn’t return calls for comment about how McCluskey died. During his court proceedings several years ago, attorneys said McCluskey was in poor health.

Gary Mitchell, one of McCluskey’s attorneys, couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday. But during a closing argument in 2013, he suggested that McCluskey was dying.

“We’re going to decide if you’re going to kill a man already dying of Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C, and gout,” he said in court, according to a transcript of the proceeding.

McCluskey on July 30, 2010, escaped from a state prison in Kingman, Ariz., along with inmates Tracy Allen Province and Daniel Renwick, with the help of Casslyn Mae Welch, McCluskey’s girlfriend and cousin. Days later, McCluskey and Province carjacked Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, of Oklahoma, from a rest stop along Interstate 40 just inside the New Mexico line.

The couple were driving to Pagosa Springs, Colo., for a camping trip when they encountered the fugitives. Province told authorities that the three were tired of driving and sleeping in a sedan, and they targeted the Haases after seeing them with a pickup and trailer, according to a criminal complaint.

McCluskey shot and killed the couple in their trailer near Tucumcari, and the group then drove the trailer to a remote spot in Guadalupe County and set fire to it with the couple inside.

Province was arrested in Wyoming about a week later, and McCluskey and Welch were arrested in Arizona on Aug. 19 after a highly publicized nationwide manhunt.

In 2013, federal prosecutors in Albuquerque tried McCluskey in a death penalty case. The prosecution was rare because New Mexico had already outlawed the death penalty at the time, but the state law didn’t affect federal prosecutions.

A jury found McCluskey guilty of all counts after an eight-week trial and found that McCluskey was eligible for the death penalty. But a jury in the capital trial that followed was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and McCluskey was sentenced to life in prison.

Province is serving a life sentence in a state prison in Arizona. Welch is in a federal prison in Fort Worth, according to prison websites.

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