Witness: Slaying of Tecumseh couple stemmed from lie about guns

The 2010 slayings of a retired Tecumseh couple who were abducted by prison escapees while vacationing in New Mexico allegedly stemmed from a lie about whether they had any guns inside their travel trailer, according to a witness who testified Wednesday.

Defendant John McCluskey is currently being tried in New Mexico on federal carjacking and murder charges in the August 2010 shooting deaths of Gary and Linda Haas. The Haases’ bodies were found in their burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.

Both were retired from the Oklahoma City General Motors plant and loved to travel. They were on their way to Pagosa Springs, Colo., for their annual camping trip when they were targeted and carjacked by three Arizona prison escapees at a rest stop near the Texas-New Mexico state line.

During court action on Wednesday, a defense attorney asked Casslyn Welch, the cousin and girlfriend of McCluskey, why he didn’t let Gary and Linda Haas go free after the abduction as he did a pair of truckers kidnapped shortly after McCluskey and two other inmates escaped with Welch’s help.

Welch acknowledged that she told investigators shortly after her arrest that the lie about the guns had set McCluskey off.

As part of the trial, it’s been revealed that their interstate run from the law turned into a “huge catastrophe.”

Welch has testified that the idea was to find a remote spot far off Interstate 40 where the Haases could be tied up and left so she and the fugitives could leave in their trailer and have a four- to five-hour head start to get away.

The couple was killed three days after Welch said she helped McCluskey and two other inmates escape. One of the inmates was caught a day later in Colorado. The search for Welch, McCluskey and his former prison bunkmate Tracy Province sparked a nationwide manhunt.

Welch previously told jurors she heard gunshots ring out and turned around to see McCluskey stepping out of the Haases’ trailer with blood on his pants, shoes and shirt.

Previous testimony has indicated that Welch and Province were outside the trailer when McCluskey allegedly shot the Haases.

After that, the fugitives took the truck and trailer to a more remote area, unhitched the trailer and set it ablaze with the bodies inside.

Welch and Province have already pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the slayings and Arizona state charges for the escape and both face life in prison.

If convicted, McCluskey could be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.

It’s unclear whether any relatives of the Tecumseh couple are attending the trial.

The couple’s daughter, Cathy Byus, 35, of Shawnee, became the victim of a homicide here earlier this year.

Byus was found shot to death in her Granada Estates home. Her husband, Justine Dewayne Byus, 25, has been charged in Pottawatomie County District Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.