ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It was summer and there was no air conditioning in their cramped car. The escaped Arizona convicts had already driven more than 1,000 miles through three states. They were desperate to find another ride.
Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., had just stopped to make lunch. They were on their way to the mountains of Colorado, where they had spent each of the last 11 summers.
That’s when their paths collided with the convicts and their accomplice at a rest stop on Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico. Within an hour, the Haases were dead.
It could have been anyone.
In fact, it almost was, according to testimony last week in the capital murder trial of John McCluskey. The first truck and trailer the trio spotted moved on before they could circle back. They ran into the Haases during a bathroom break.
“All I could do was picture my mom and dad,” Tracy Province testified last week. “That’s what they did when they retired, was travel around in an RV. And I realized that could have happened to them just as easily as it happened to Mr. and Mrs. Haas.”
That was Aug. 2, 2010, three days after McCluskey and Province escaped from a privately-run, medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., with the help of McCluskey’s cousin and wife, Casslyn Welch.
McCluskey is on trial for the carjacking and slayings of the Haases. Province, who pleaded guilty last year to numerous charges related to the crime rampage, spent three days testifying for the prosecution.
Province detailed the events for jurors, saying he and McCluskey forced the Haases, at gunpoint, to drive west along I-40 and exit onto a lonely two-lane road. McCluskey told the retirees he wasn’t going to hurt them as long as they cooperated, and that the trio only wanted the couple’s truck, cash and guns.
The plan was to leave them and their trailer in the New Mexico desert, but not too far for them to walk for help, Province said.
As Province and Welch were outside the trailer, shots rang out. Province said he rushed back to the trailer door and smelled gun smoke. The Haases were dead. He said McCluskey told him he didn’t want any witnesses.
After moving the truck and trailer to a more remote location, the trailer was unhitched and burned, with the Haases’ bodies inside.
In two weeks, prosecutors have put numerous investigators and other experts on the stand and have introduced dozens of pieces of evidence, from photographs to surveillance video. On Thursday, they played for the jury a video that panned across what was left of the burned-out trailer.
New Mexico State Police Sgt. David O’Leary testified the only things immediately identifiable among the rubble were a skull and other brittle bone fragments.
“I mean if you touched them with your hand they would definitely, they would fall apart,” O’Leary said.
Investigators sifted through the ashes and found teeth, eyeglasses, bullet casings and Linda Haas’ wedding ring.
Seeing video of the scene for the first time left the Haas family members in tears.
Vivian Haas, the 83-year-old mother of Gary Haas, has been seated in the front row each day, watching McCluskey and the parade of witnesses. She said it might have taken courage for Province to come forward, but she wants to hear from McCluskey.
“I don’t see how McCluskey can just sit there. He should stand up and apologize. He should say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” she said. “But you know, it’s really too late now.”
It will be another three weeks before prosecutors rest their case, and the defense begins calling its own witnesses. The trial, which resumes Tuesday, is expected to last up to four months.