N.M. prosecutors seek death penalty against escapees

McCluskey, Province and Welch suspected of killing couple after breakout from prison in Golden Valley

L-R: McCluskey, Welch, and Province

L-R: McCluskey, Welch, and Province

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in New Mexico have begun steps to seek the death penalty against two Arizona prison escapees and a woman who allegedly helped them escape.

A federal grand jury on Wednesday returned a superseding indictment against John Charles McCluskey, 45; Tracy Allen Province, 42; and Casslyn Mae Welch, 44, who are accused in the murders of Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, of Tecumseh, Okla.

Their bodies were found in August with their burned-out recreational trailer near Santa Rosa in eastern New Mexico.

The superseding indictment incorporates the 13 counts of the original indictment but adds a notice of special findings under a law that allows the death penalty after consideration of mitigating and aggravating factors for people found guilty of a crime eligible for the death penalty.

"It's part of the procedural steps we have to go through" to preserve the right to seek the death penalty, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico, said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales said when the original indictment was returned Sept. 29 the trio could face the death penalty if convicted.

The final decision whether to seek it will be made by the U.S. attorney general based on the U.S. attorney's recommendation, each defendant's background and the circumstances of the crime.

McCluskey, Province and Welch were indicted on charges of capital murder, carjacking, conspiracy to commit carjacking, carjacking resulting in death, tampering with a witness, conspiracy and other crimes.

The notice of special findings alleges they intentionally killed the Oklahoma couple, who were on their way to Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Prosecutors have said they targeted the couple at an Interstate 40 rest stop because the trio was tired of traveling and sleeping in a car, and wanted to steal the couple's camping trailer.

The Haases were taken to a remote ranch where they were shot, and the trailer was set on fire Aug. 2.

The three, now held in Arizona, also face Arizona charges of escape, kidnapping, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Investigators allege Welch helped McCluskey, Province and Daniel Renwick escape from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman on July 31 by throwing wire cutters over a fence. The escape sparked a nationwide manhunt.

Renwick, who split from the group, was recaptured Aug. 1 in Colorado. Authorities say the three others went on a multistate crime spree before Province was arrested Aug. 8 in Wyoming and McCluskey and Welch were arrested Aug. 19 in Arizona.