Lover testifies in Arizona fugitive's murder trial - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Lover testifies in Arizona fugitive's murder trial

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Casslyn Welch Casslyn Welch
John McCluskey John McCluskey

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The cousin and girlfriend of an escaped Arizona inmate accused of killing an Oklahoma couple while on the run took the stand Monday and detailed the preparations made as she helped orchestrate a prison break for her lover and two other inmates.

John McCluskey's cousin and girlfriend, Casslyn Welch, said it was her responsibility to provide guns, wire cutters and a getaway vehicle stocked with water, food, clothes and other supplies. She said she purchased camouflage clothing and scoped out the privately-run medium security prison near Kingman days before the escape.

Welch said talk of escaping turned serious in May 2010. There were phone calls, letters and visits over the next two months in which McCluskey doled out instructions from behind the prison's walls. In one recorded phone conversation played for jurors, he tells Welch she needs to do a better job of following instructions.

"If you don't, it's going to be a disaster," he said. "I don't think you understand the severity of it."

Welch answered: "Yes I do. I can get killed. You can get killed."

Then the phone line goes dead.

Prosecutor Greg Fouratt asked Welch whether she had thought about backing out as she, clad in camouflage from head to toe and carrying full-loaded firearms, approached the prison.

"I thought it a million and one times, but I knew I couldn't," she said.

Fouratt then asked Welch what she was thinking as she was walking through the desert the evening of the escape.

"This shouldn't be happening. A middle-aged woman who is not in shape shouldn't be able to walk right up on a prison," she said.

McCluskey is the last of three defendants to be tried on federal carjacking and murder charges in the August 2010 shooting deaths of the Oklahoma couple whose bodies were found incinerated in their burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.

Prosecutors allege Welch, McCluskey and his former prison bunkmate Tracy Province targeted Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., on Aug. 2, 2010, at a rest stop near the Texas-New Mexico state line. At gunpoint, the couple was forced to drive to a lonely road off of Interstate 40. Testimony during the first three weeks of the trial indicated Province and Welch were outside the trailer when McCluskey allegedly shot the Haases.

The fugitives took the truck and trailer to a more desolate spot, unhitched the trailer and set it ablaze with the Haases' bodies inside.

Welch has yet to testify about the shooting. Prosecutors said she will be on the stand for much of the week.

Welch and Province are facing life in prison after pleading guilty last year to charges stemming from the Haases' slayings. If convicted, McCluskey would face either life in prison or the death penalty.

Welch took the stand Monday and began wiping tears from her face before jurors entered the courtroom. She testified she has known McCluskey all of her life -- their mothers are sisters -- and they became romantically involved in 2007 while living in Arkansas.

While the pair would refer to each other as husband and wife, they are not legally married. Welch said they lived together when they moved to Arizona and spent time on the road together while she worked as a truck driver.

"We loved each other," she said.

Welch, in an orange jumpsuit and shackles, and McCluskey, in a brown suit and tie, exchanged glances while she was on the stand and during breaks in the proceeding.

Welch said she would visit McCluskey in prison every weekend, making the four-hour drive from her home. McCluskey was serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted the year before of attempted second-degree murder and other charges. He faced another 15 years in prison for violating parole in Pennsylvania in a separate case.

There were also letters and daily phone calls, Welch said.

"He was tired of doing time," she testified.

After a three-week nationwide manhunt, authorities captured McCluskey and Welch at a campground in Apache County, Ariz. Robert Watkins, a deputy who helped with the arrest, testified Monday that Welch shoved her hand into her waistband as he repeatedly screamed at her to show him her hands.

"My commands had no effect on her," Watkins said. "... It appeared to me she was preparing for a gunfight."

With his gun trained on her chest, he said Welch twisted her hips and threw a chrome revolver to the ground. He took her down and handcuffed her.

Prosecutors showed photographs of the campsite and of a shirtless, tattooed McCluskey, his hands behind his back as law enforcement agents held him.

Watkins testified that McCluskey said had he been able to reach his gun, which was in a tent, he would have tried to kill the deputies.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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