Welch pleads not guilty in NM

Casslyn Welch

Casslyn Welch

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A woman who helped her fiancé and two other men flee an Arizona prison pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges in the deaths of an Oklahoma couple who authorities say were killed in New Mexico while the escapees were running from the law.

Shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, Casslyn Welch appeared before U.S. Magistrate Robert Scott in Albuquerque. The 44-year-old Welch dabbed her eyes with a tissue and looked several times at the victims' family and friends before the proceedings began.

Welch told the judge she understood the charges, and her attorneys entered the not guilty plea on her behalf.

Welch faces carjacking and murder counts in the August 2010 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, of Tecumseh, Okla. The couple's remains were found with their burned-out camping trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.

"They meant the world to us," Gary Haas' younger sister, Linda Rook, said outside the courthouse Monday. "This is the hardest thing we've ever been through. We're just looking for justice."

Rook, Gary Haas' 81-year-old mother, Vivian Haas, and the couple's only daughter, son-in-law and infant grandson were among the group of family and friends who traveled from various states to see Welch make her initial appearance.

Family members said not a day goes by when they don't think about Gary and Linda Haas, high school sweethearts who loved fishing and traveling.

"We're still all suffering," Rook said.

Welch was brought to New Mexico after pleading guilty last week in Arizona to state charges of helping her cousin and fiancé, John McCluskey, and two other men flee a prison near Kingman. The escape sparked a nationwide manhunt.