Arizona prison break accomplice pleads guilty

AP News
Posted: Apr 12, 2011 4:40 PM
Arizona prison break accomplice pleads guilty

The cousin of an Arizona inmate pleaded guilty Tuesday to state charges of helping him and two other men flee a state prison, but she still faces federal charges in the deaths of an Oklahoma couple who authorities say were killed during the escapees' run from the law.

Casslyn Welch, 44, entered her plea before Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn, who said he would sentence her after she resolves the pending federal charges. The judge ordered the sentence to be served concurrently with any federal sentence if Welch is convicted.

Under a plea agreement with Arizona prosecutors, Welch will receive 20 years in prison on an escape charge and two counts of armed robbery. Prosecutors agreed to drop kidnapping and aggravated assault charges stemming from the prison break last July, and also dismissed six drug charges in a separate case.

"That's a good resolution," said prosecutor Victoria Stazio.

Welch's attorney declined to comment following the hearing.

Welch is charged in New Mexico on federal carjacking and murder counts relating to the deaths of the couple, whose remains were found in New Mexico. Welch was expected to be transported to that state, where she has an initial hearing Monday in Albuquerque.

Welch previously pleaded not guilty to the Arizona charges from the escape, which sparked a nationwide manhunt. On Tuesday, she acknowledged throwing cutting tools onto the grounds of the medium-security prison near Kingman, which allowed John McCluskey, Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick to break through a perimeter fence and flee into the desert.

Welch, who is McCluskey's fiancee and cousin, also admitted to supplying them with guns and money, and Renwick with a get-away vehicle.

Province, McCluskey and Welch found themselves without transportation and hijacked a semi-truck at gunpoint near Kingman, forcing the drivers to take them to Flagstaff. Prosecutors say the three also targeted Gary and Linda Haas, of Tecumseh, Okla., at a rest stop in New Mexico for the couple's camping trailer. The Haases were taken to a remote ranch where they were shot.

Renwick was captured first after a police shootout in western Colorado, followed by Province. Welch and McCluskey were arrested later at an eastern Arizona campsite.

Welch and Province have pleaded guilty to armed robbery. Neither is listed as witnesses in the Arizona trial of McCluskey, who has pleaded not guilty.

Welch's drug charges arose from a prison visit last June. Authorities said she lost her visitation rights, but not her phone privileges, when a vehicle search turned up marijuana, heroin and drug paraphernalia.

Welch wasn't immediately jailed after the search because sheriff's officials said she agreed to be a drug informant. She was charged following the prison escape with six counts of narcotics violations.

Province was sentenced to more than 38 years on the escape charges, but a judge acknowledged it meant little because Province already was serving a life sentence for prior crimes.

Renwick, who was serving time in Arizona for murder, faces three counts of attempted murder in Colorado.