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Ariz. inmate who sparked manhunt gets 43 years

AP News
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Posted: Jun 17, 2011 9:56 PM
Ariz. inmate who sparked manhunt gets 43 years

An Arizona inmate whose escape sparked a three-week national manhunt last summer was sentenced Friday to 43 years behind bars for breaking out of prison and abducting two truck drivers whose big rig was used as a getaway vehicle.

John McCluskey's sentence came the same day a Mohave County jury found him guilty of escape, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other charges in his July 30 break from the medium-security Arizona State Prison in Golden Valley.

Authorities said McCluskey, a second inmate and their accomplice went on to kill Gary and Linda Haas, of Tecumseh, Okla., who were traveling through New Mexico on their way to an annual camping trip in Colorado.

The couple's family members watched Friday as McCluskey requested that he be sentenced sooner rather than later. He was ushered back into the courtroom a short time later, shackled at the wrists and ankles and wearing a red jumpsuit.

"What we were really pleased with was that he, himself, decided that today was a good day to be sentenced and get this over with. Personally, I feel it's the first right thing he has done," Linda Rook, whose brother was killed, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Prosecutors said McCluskey, 46, and two other inmates escaped with the help of Casslyn Welch, who threw cutting tools onto the prison grounds and supplied the men with guns, money and a vehicle.

After one inmate left alone in the vehicle, police say McCluskey, Tracy Province and Welch kidnapped two truck drivers at gunpoint. The drivers later were released.

McCluskey, Province and Welch ended up in New Mexico, where they face federal murder and carjacking charges in the Aug. 2 deaths of the Haases.

The Haases' family members said McCluskey laughed at various times during the court proceedings and was dangling his arm during sentencing.

"He acted like he had no remorse," Rook said.

Rook and her 81-year-old mother, Vivian Haas, drove hundreds of miles from their home in Joplin, Mo., to attend the trial. They have also attended court proceedings in New Mexico for Welch and Province and plan to be there when the federal case against McCluskey gets under way.

Haas' neighborhood was flattened by the tornado that recently struck Joplin. The old-growth trees in her yard and her vehicle were long gone after the storm, but she survived. She believes it was for a reason _ to see the case through.

"We've made up our mind that this has got to be done. And I just hope that we can see justice," she said.

Haas and Rook got a good look at McCluskey this week. With longer hair and pale skin, he looked different than the man authorities took into custody last year in eastern Arizona, they said.

Inmate Daniel Renwick, who made off alone in the vehicle Welch had provided, was the first to be captured after a shootout in Colorado a day after the escape. Province was found in Wyoming on Aug. 9.

Welch and McCluskey were arrested more than a week later at an Arizona campsite after an alert U.S. Forest Service employee spotted their beat-up Nissan backed suspiciously into the trees.

Welch, Province and Renwick already have resolved their Arizona charges. Renwick pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted murder in the Colorado case and was sentenced to 60 years behind bars.

The escape cast a critical spotlight on Arizona's prison system. A report revealed a series of security breakdowns at the prison operated by Management and Training Corp., including alarms that went off so often that prison personnel just ignored them. The prison warden and a security official resigned.

Since then, Arizona officials said a new alarm system was installed, staff training and testing have increased and more state employees are monitoring the private prison staff.

McCluskey had been serving a 15-year prison term for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he escaped. He previously did time in Pennsylvania related to a string of armed robberies in the 1990s.

Prosecutors said guards had been extra alert around McCluskey because he tried to head butt a sheriff's detective and because authorities found a makeshift weapon in his cell. He was required to wear a stun belt during the trial.

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Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.