Jury convicts Ariz. inmate who sparked manhunt

June 17, 2011 - 4:56 PM

KINGMAN, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona inmate whose escape sparked a three-week national manhunt was convicted Friday of breaking out of prison and abducting two truck drivers whose big rig was used as a getaway vehicle.

A Mohave County jury found 46-year-old John McCluskey guilty of escape, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other charges in his July 30 break from the medium-security Arizona State Prison in Golden Valley. Authorities said McCluskey, a second inmate and their accomplice went on to kill an Oklahoma couple traveling in New Mexico on a camping trip during their time on the run.

Prosecutors said McCluskey and two other inmates escaped with the help of Casslyn Welch, who threw cutting tools onto the prison grounds and supplied the men with guns, money and a vehicle.

After one inmate left alone in the vehicle, police say McCluskey, Tracy Province and Welch kidnapped two truck drivers at gunpoint. The drivers later were released.

McCluskey, Province and Welch ended up in New Mexico, where they face federal murder and carjacking charges in the Aug. 2 deaths of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla.

Inmate Daniel Renwick, who made off alone in the vehicle Welch had provided, was the first to be captured after a shootout in Colorado a day after the escape. Province was found in Wyoming on Aug. 9.

Welch and McCluskey were arrested more than a week later at an eastern Arizona campsite after an alert U.S. Forest Service employee spotted their beat-up Nissan backed suspiciously into the trees.

Welch, Province and Renwick already have resolved their Arizona charges. Renwick pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted murder in the Colorado case and was sentenced to 60 years behind bars.

The escape cast a critical spotlight on Arizona's prison system. A report revealed a series of security breakdowns at the prison, including alarms that went off so often that prison personnel just ignored them. The prison warden and a security official resigned.

Since then, Arizona officials said a new alarm system was installed, staff training and testing have increased and more state employees are monitoring the private prison staff.

McCluskey had been serving a 15-year prison term for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he escaped. He previously did time in Pennsylvania related to a string of armed robberies in the 1990s.

Prosecutors said guards had been extra alert around McCluskey because authorities have found weapons in his cell, including a razor blade and shank. He was required to wear a stun belt during the trial.