ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Accomplice Casslyn Welch told jurors she was "freaked out" after she heard gunshots and realized the Oklahoma couple that she and two escaped Arizona inmates had carjacked less than two hours earlier were dead.
Prosecutors have called Welch to the witness stand in the capital murder trial of her cousin and boyfriend, John McCluskey. He's facing federal carjacking and murder charges in the August 2010 shooting deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla. The Haases' bodies were found incinerated in their burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.
The slayings happened three days after Welch said she helped McCluskey and two other inmates escape from a privately-run, medium security prison near Kingman. One of the inmates was caught a day later in Colorado, but Welch, McCluskey and his former prison bunkmate Tracy Province sparked a nationwide manhunt.
Their photographs were being flashed on the television news.
"The stress level was absolutely beyond max," Welch testified.
She told jurors she and the fugitives decided to commandeer a truck and travel trailer so they could "get off the grid" and go into hiding. They spotted the Haases on Aug. 2, 2010. The retired couple had just stopped for lunch at a rest stop near the Texas-New Mexico state line.
At gunpoint, the couple was forced to drive west until being ordered off Interstate 40 and onto to a lonely two-lane road. The truck and trailer stopped after turning around. Welch said she and Province were outside the trailer when the gunshots rang out. Prosecutors and testimony over the last three weeks of trial point to McCluskey being the triggerman.
"He had a lot of blood on him — his pants, his shoes, his shirt," Welch testified.
When asked if she looked inside the trailer, Welch said: "Just couldn't do it." She said she didn't need to, knowing the Haases were shot at close range and with a high-caliber pistol.
Welch is expected to take the stand again Tuesday when the trial resumes.
Jurors on Monday heard a series of recorded phone conversations between McCluskey and Welch in which the two spoke in code while planning the prison break. The calls often ended with the two declaring their love for one another. While the pair would refer to each other as husband and wife, they were not legally married.
In one of the calls, McCluskey 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."