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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 11, 2013 10:58 pm

Jury gets case in Ohio's Craigslist murder trial

By THOMAS J. SHEERANAssociated Press

The murder case against a self-styled street preacher accused of killing three men he lured with Craigslist job offers went to the jury on Monday after the prosecution asked jurors to use common sense and return a guilty verdict.

But the defense for Richard Beasley told jurors in final arguments that the identity theft and robbery motives cited by prosecutors were baseless and said Beasley was targeted by investigators based only on a hunch.

Jurors, who will be sequestered in a hotel each night until reaching a verdict, deliberated into the evening at the judge's urging and were to resume their work Tuesday. If Beasley, 53, is convicted of aggravated murder, the jurors would return later to consider whether to recommend the death penalty for him.

Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel repeatedly mentioned the three victims and a fourth jobseeker who survived an attack, and he told jurors there was no reasonable doubt that Beasley, a mentor to a high school student who has been convicted in the case, plotted the killings.

"They were desperate for a better life," Baumoel said in a hushed courtroom, with Beasley sitting in a wheelchair due to back problems. "They wanted a second chance."

Baumoel said jurors should use their common sense in weighing evidence against Beasley. The standard for a guilty verdict is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, "It is not beyond all doubt," the prosecutor said.

Baumoel presented three possible theories for aggravated murder - planning the crimes, done with a kidnapping or done with a robbery.

"This was clearly with prior calculation and design," a component of the death penalty aggravated murder charge, Baumoel said. "He was the mastermind behind this plot."

Defense attorney James Burdon, in a closing statement to jurors, attacked the prosecution's identify theft and robbery motives. He said Beasley was using one man's ID before the man was killed.

"He didn't have to lure him to southern Ohio to kill him," Burdon said.

Burdon said the victims had little to steal and suggested that undercut the prosecution's robbery motive. One victim had to borrow $20 from his son to get to the farmhand job interview, Burdon said.

There were no witnesses linking Beasley to the killings, he said.

According to Burdon, Beasley was targeted by prosecutors because he posted the jobs offers for someone else. He called targeting Beasley a "hunch" by investigators.

Beasley, a one-time street preacher, is an ex-convict. His 18-year-old co-defendant, Brogan Rafferty, was convicted and sentenced last year to life in prison without the chance of parole. Rafferty was under 18 at the time of the crimes and was ineligible for the death penalty.

Beasley said he knew nothing about the killings.

"I had no idea that somebody, anybody, had been killed down on that farm. I had no way to know," Beasley testified in his defense.

Beasley denied involvement in the 2011 attacks and said that the lone survivor was sent to kill him in retaliation for being a police snitch in a motorcycle gang investigation in Akron.

Prosecutors said Beasley and Rafferty used the job postings as bait in a robbery plot aimed at down-on-their-luck victims with few family ties that might highlight their disappearances. The slain men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon.

Rafferty has said the crimes were horrible but he didn't see any chance to stop the killings. He said he feared Beasley would kill him and his relatives if he tipped off police.

Beasley testified that he met with the surviving victim, Scott Davis, of South Carolina, but that Davis was the one who pulled a gun in retaliation for Beasley's role as a police informant.

Davis, who was the star witness at Rafferty's trial, also testified against Beasley. He testified that he fled into the woods in Noble County, about 60 miles east of Columbus, after hearing the click of a handgun, getting shot in the arm and pushing the weapon aside.

Prosecutors said he was lucky to survive.

"Only by the grace of God did he escape with his life," Baumoel told the jury.