ALBUQUERQUE (KASA) - Opening statements Monday morning set the stage for the sentencing phase in the trial against the escaped Arizona inmate convicted of killing a couple in New Mexico in 2010.
The same jury that convicted John McCluskey will now have to decide if he should get the death penalty.
The prosecution is pointing to McCluskey’s violent criminal history while the defense argues mental health issues make him ineligible for the death penalty.
A jury earlier this month found McCluskey guilty of 20 counts, including carjacking and killing Gary and Linda Haas in August of 2010 — just days after McCluskey escaped from an Arizona prison.
The Oklahoma couple was traveling through New Mexico to Colorado.
Now, the jury has to decide if McCluskey is eligible for the death penalty. Then, if he deserves it.
The defense Monday argued McCluskey isn't eligible for the death penalty, saying he didn't intend to kill — that it happened as a result of injuries and abnormalities in McCluskey's brain that cause him to react in ways that aren't normal.
Another consideration when looking at eligibility is violent criminal history, which is the prosecution's focus.
They told the jury of McCluskey’s previous attempted murder conviction, four prior armed robbery convictions and aggravated assault convictions.
If he is sentenced to death, he would join nearly 60 federal inmates currently on death row since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons website shows only three death row prisoners have actually been executed since 2000, including Oklahoma city bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001.
The judge Monday said she is hoping this sentencing phase will be over by Thanksgiving, but it could last until mid-December.
Before this trial has even ended, KRQE News 13 has learned McCluskey's attorneys have already filed a request for a new trial.
John Smith with your forecast and Kim Vallez with your afternoon headlines.
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The end of the John McCluckey sentencing phase is drawing nearer.
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