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Jurors hear angry recording in NM murder trial
Thursday - 9/19/2013, 5:57pm EDT
SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- An angry and demanding John McCluskey, a convict on trial for the killing of an Oklahoma couple after escaping from prison, told his girlfriend to collect drug debts and play by his rules if she wanted to stay with him, according to a recorded phone call heard by jurors on Thursday.
Prosecutors played the conversation between McCluskey and Casslyn Welch as she spent her fourth day on the witness stand detailing the events that led to the shooting deaths of the couple in 2010.
On the call, his temper flared after he learned that Welch, who is also his cousin, failed to collect on a drug debt. McCluskey said she must follow his rules if she's going to be with him.
"If you're not going to live with me by my rules, then you live by yourself," he is heard saying on the recording. "I cannot depend on anybody but you."
Welch has testified that she would smuggle heroin and marijuana to McCluskey in prison, and he would sell it to other inmates. Welch would collect payments from relatives and friends of the buyers on the outside, with the proceeds helping finance McCluskey's prison break.
Asked why she followed his orders, Welch said, "I just did what I was told. He told me. I supported it."
McCluskey is facing federal carjacking and murder charges in the Aug. 2, 2010, deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. If convicted, he faces either life in prison or the death penalty.
The recorded call gave jurors a glimpse of McCluskey's temper. Since the trial began in August, McCluskey, always dressed in a suit and tie, has shown little emotion while seated among his defense attorneys.
Welch wrapped up her testimony answering questions from prosecutors about her previous reference to McCluskey as a pit bull. The day of the carjacking and murders, she had said, he was "chomping at the bit, pulling at the leash."
"They're very touchy animals," she said Thursday of pit bulls. "They're very loyal, loving, but explosive at the same time."
The defense has tried to discredit Welch, saying her testimony this week didn't match what she had told investigators in the days following her arrest. Defense attorney Gary Mitchell said it was Welch who initially took credit for targeting the couple and for the idea to burn their trailer -- with their bodies inside -- to get rid of evidence.
Prosecutor Greg Fouratt pointed to consistencies in Welch's account and asked if she had ever identified anyone other than McCluskey as the triggerman in the killings.
"No sir," she answered.
Welch pleaded guilty last year to carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, use of a firearm during a violent crime and other counts. She could face up to life in prison.
The slayings happened three days after Welch said she helped McCluskey and two other inmates escape from a privately run, medium security prison near Kingman, Ariz. One of the inmates was caught a day later in Colorado, but Welch, McCluskey and his former prison bunkmate Tracy Province became the targets of a nationwide manhunt.
The Haases' bodies were found incinerated in their travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico. Forensic experts testified Thursday that investigators had to sift through the debris to find fragile bits of a skull, part of spinal column, a jawbone, teeth and tissue that was unrecognizable.
Jurors saw photographs and X-rays of the remains that had been collected at the crime scene. Some of the X-rays were filled entirely by the outlines of dozens of bone fragments that were sorted and identified by a team of pathologists and anthropologists.
Michelle Aurelius, assistant chief medical investigator at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, said heat from the blaze reduced the husband and wife to less than 10 pounds each of cracked bone fragments and charred tissue.
"We do not have complete remains for Mr. and Mrs. Haas. We have pieces," she said.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday and prosecutors expect to wrap up their case early next week.
Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM
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