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N.M. jury to decide on death penalty

John McCluskey, convicted of killing an Oklahoma couple in 2010, is unable to properly reason, according to his defense attorneys.

file/Associated Press

John McCluskey, convicted of killing an Oklahoma couple in 2010, is unable to properly reason, according to his defense attorneys.

ALBUQUERQUE — John McCluskey is not the vicious pit bull that prosecutors have made him out to be, according to his defense attorneys.

Rather, they said Monday, the Arizona inmate convicted of killing an Oklahoma couple while on the run in New Mexico is a remorseful animal lover unable to properly reason because of his abusive childhood and brain defects.

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‘‘Like all of us in this room, he is a human being,’’ attorney Teri Duncan said in closing arguments in the first phase of McCluskey’s sentencing trial in federal court. ‘‘. . . with flaws, but a human being nonetheless.’’ Duncan said jurors should spare McCluskey the death penalty not of out of sympathy, but out of understanding of how his brain works and his inability to control his impulses.

Prosecutor Michael Warbel argued that McCluskey was thinking clearly when he planned his August 2010 escape from prison and the resulting violent rampage.

Warbel reminded jurors that in the first phase of the sentencing trial they are simply deciding whether McCluskey is eligible for the death penalty, not whether to impose it.

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