ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The defense worked Tuesday to discredit a key witness in the capital murder trial of escaped Arizona convict John McCluskey, grilling one of his accomplices about his past murder conviction, their prison break and the role he played in the slayings of an Oklahoma couple while the two were on the lam in New Mexico.
Tracy Province was on the stand for a second day in the trial of his former bunkmate, who Province testified Monday was the triggerman in the Aug. 2, 2010, slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla.
The retirees were carjacked for their pickup truck and trailer and forced to drive to a desolate spot along Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico, where Province says McCluskey killed them.
Province said he and another accomplice, Casslyn Welch, were outside the trailer when they heard gunshots ring out.
Province told the court Monday that he thought of his own parents when he heard the four shots. In the following days, he said McCluskey apologized to him a number of times.
"I felt that he actually meant it, but I didn't want to think about it. I told him to shut the heck up because there was nothing we could do about it now," Province said.
Michael Burt, who is leading McCluskey's defense, suggested Province was "performing" for the jury and that his credibility was questionable given inconsistent statements he made to investigators following the slayings.
Burt said prosecutors implied Province was college educated, God-fearing and a "straight-laced guy."
"The government has clearly put a halo around this individual," Burt said Tuesday.
Prosecutor Greg Fouratt dismissed Burt's concerns, saying he presented evidence Monday that Province was no angel. He pointed to Province's 24 felony convictions, his time spent bouncing around prisons in Arizona, and drug use that ranged from marijuana and LSD to heroin, a habit he maintained while in prison.
Jurors were kept out of the courtroom for about an hour Tuesday while Burt and prosecutors argued about what questions would be allowed during Province's cross-examination.
Burt played a series of recorded audio interviews between Province and law enforcement agents following his arrest. Province is heard telling investigators he did not remember helping move one of the victim's bodies.
However, on Monday, he testified that he did remember helping McCluskey move the body of Gary Haas.
While being grilled by Burt about the inconsistency, Province said he may have blocked out that detail.
"It was a pretty traumatic incident," he said. "That was an incident I was trying not to remember even happened."
It was an emotional day for family members of the victims as Province recounted what happened in the moments leading up to and after the shooting.
Burt also questioned Province about his plea agreement and his willingness to cooperate with prosecutors, suggesting that Province was cooperating because he wanted out of the Arizona prison system and into a witness protection program within the federal Bureau of Prisons. Province said he had nothing to hide and that he wanted to "take responsibility for every action I took." Province said however, that did not include pulling the trigger.
During his testimony, Province said many of the things he had done during the escape and while the trio was on the run were things McCluskey told him to do. But Burt questioned Tuesday whether he was actually a follower, saying that Province for a time was a leader among inmates who identified with the Aryan Brotherhood.