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Life sentence for Ariz. inmate who killed couple after jury fails to reach decision

Jurors deliberating the sentence for Arizona inmate John McCluskey failed to reach a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, meaning the judge will sentence him to life in prison for murdering a retired Oklahoma couple.

The four-month trial focused less on whether McCluskey was guilty than whether he was capable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions when he kidnapped and killed Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., as they passed through New Mexico on their summer vacation. The murders came during a multistate crime spree that followed McCluskey's 2010 prison break.

A sentencing date has yet to be set. Jurors deliberated for nearly four days before deciding they couldn't agree on the sentence.

During the trial, prosecutors portrayed the 48-year-old McCluskey as a dangerous, remorseless, cold-blooded killer who deserved nothing less than execution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Warbel told jurors during closing arguments that a life sentence for McCluskey "would be like putting a child in the corner."

The defense, however, painted McCluskey as a broken man with a low IQ who suffered a hard life of abuse, brain damage, a prison rape and addiction.

McCluskey shouldn't have to pay the ultimate price "because the good Lord didn't bless him with what you and I have," attorney Gary Mitchell said during closing remarks.

The same jury convicted McCluskey in October of murder, carjacking and other charges in the August 2010 murders.

It was only the second federal death penalty case to be deliberated in the state in a decade.

New Mexico outlawed the death penalty for state crimes in 2009.

McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he and two other prisoners escaped from a medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., in July 2010 with the help of his cousin and fiancee, Casslyn Welch.

One of the inmates was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado. McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province headed to New Mexico, where they carjacked the Haases for their truck and travel trailer.

Province and Welch pleaded guilty last year to carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, use of a firearm during a violent crime and other charges. They both fingered McCluskey as the triggerman.

The victims were high school sweethearts and recent retirees from General Motors. They were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were killed.

The slayings happened three days after the prison break that Welch testified was funded by a drug smuggling ring that she and McCluskey ran for prison inmates.

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