AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The alleged mastermind of a deadly plot to lure victims with phony Craigslist job offers, a scheme that led to three deaths and the wounding of a fourth man, went on trial Monday for murder, with prosecutors outlining motives of robbery and identity theft.
"He wanted a new identity and he got it," prosecutor Emily Pelphrey told jurors as she outlined the evidence against Richard Beasley, 53, an ex-convict who slumped in his wheelchair without looking at Pelphrey. Beasley has back problems.
His attorney, James Burdon, said there wasn't enough evidence to convict Beasley. He said the defense would try to show that the survivor attacked Beasley first, not the other way around.
Beasley, who was dressed in a dark suit, could face the death penalty if convicted.
In a 40-minute opening statement, Pelphrey showed jurors photos of the victims and, without identifying the teen, a photo of Beasley hugging his co-defendant, Brogan Rafferty, 18.
Rafferty, who thought of Beasley as a mentor and friend, was convicted last year and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
Rafferty, too young at the time of the crimes to be eligible for the death penalty, has agreed to testify against Beasley, the alleged triggerman. It was unclear whether his testimony could lead to a sentence reduction.
At his sentencing, Rafferty said the crimes were horrible but he didn't recognize any chance to stop the killings. Rafferty said he feared Beasley would kill him and his family members if he tipped off police.
If Beasley is convicted of aggravated murder, the same jury would hear evidence on whether to recommend that the judge impose the death sentence. Any sentencing proceeding likely would begin April 8, the judge said.
Prosecutors say the victims, all down in their luck and with few family ties that might highlight their disappearance, were lured with phony offers of southeast Ohio farmhand jobs on Craigslist in 2011. The slain men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon.
The lone survivor, Scott Davis, was shot in the arm and fled into the woods. Davis, of South Carolina, was looking to move closer to his family in the Canton area.
When the prosecutor outlined how Kern was killed, his father, Jack Kern, sitting in the front row of the public gallery, wiped his eyes and shifted in his seat as he listened.
"He was shot in the back of the head," said Pelphrey, who showed a Nov. 13, 2011, parking lot surveillance photo of Kern, apparently the last time he was seen alive. He was shot later that morning, Pelphrey said.
Davis, who was the star witness at Rafferty's trial, will testify against Beasley, Pelphrey said.
Davis fled into the woods in Noble County after hearing the click of a handgun, getting shot in the arm, and pushing the weapon aside. "You're going to hear him talk about that," Pelphrey said.
Burdon said the defense would try to show that Beasley had posted the Craigslist ads at the behest of a man with a violent criminal history. He didn't detail the circumstances.
Burdon also signaled that the defense would challenge the prosecution's contention that the survivor was attacked first by Beasley while walking at the farm and discussing a $300-a-week job. "We think the evidence will show the opposite," Burden said.