ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, Associated Press
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - An Ohio teenager was found guilty of aggravated murder Tuesday for his role in a deadly plot to lure men desperate for work with phony Craigslist job offers.
Prosecutors in the weekslong trial painted 17-year-old Brogan Rafferty as a quick student of violence and willing participant in three killings, while the defense argued he was acting under the duress of his alleged accomplice, a self-styled chaplain depicted as a mentor.
Authorities say Rafferty, of Stow, helped Richard Beasley, of Akron, lure four victims at separate times with bogus Craigslist job offers to a nonexistent cattle farm in rural Noble County in southeast Ohio; they say the motive was robbery. Authorities say Beasley shot and killed three of the men; the fourth victim was shot in the arm and survived.
Prosecutors and the defense, who are under a gag order, didn't comment after the verdict.
Rafferty testified that he didn't want to be a part of such violence and said he went along with the plan only because he feared for his life.
"I thought he'd kill me," Rafferty said.
Rafferty was tried as an adult but faced a maximum potential sentence of life in prison because he is a juvenile. Beasley, 53, has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted at his separate trial.
Jurors reached the verdict on their fourth day of deliberations, convicting Rafferty of three counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder.
The man who survived, 49-year-old Scott Davis of South Carolina, had testified as the prosecution's star witness, identifying Rafferty as Beasley's accomplice and telling a harrowing story.
Davis told a crowded, hushed courtroom that he had moved to the Canton area after selling his South Carolina business to be closer to his family, and responded to a Craigslist ad to work as a farmhand.
He said he met Rafferty and a man who called himself "Jack" for breakfast before driving to an isolated Noble County farm.
Prosecutors say that "Jack" was actually Beasley, and that he urged Davis into a wooded area to look for farm equipment.
Davis said he heard a gun cock and turned around to find himself face to face with a handgun. He said he pushed the weapon aside, was shot in the arm and fled as "Jack" fired at him.
Davis said he kept falling as he ran away but eventually made it to a creek bed, tried to stop the bleeding and waited for dark. In rising pain and worried that the blood loss would kill him, Davis said he climbed to a hilltop, found a house and asked to call 911.
"I was getting weak at that point," Davis testified.
During Rafferty's trial, defense attorney John Alexander painted Beasley as the mastermind and said that the first killing came without warning for Rafferty, who "had no idea any of this was going on."
After the first killing, Alexander said that Beasley warned Rafferty to keep quiet and cooperate by reminding him that he knew where his mother and sister lived.
Prosecutor Emily Pelphrey told jurors that Rafferty chose to participate in the killings, saying he was a "student of violent crime."
"He made the choices he wanted to make," she said.
Prosecutors also showed jurors photographs of a suitcase filled with weapons found in Rafferty's bedroom, including a sawed-off shotgun, a .22-caliber pistol, two knives and ammunition. None of the weapons was conclusively linked to any of the three killings.
Jurors also were shown photos of the graves of the three men killed in the plot and said they were just trying to improve their lives and find work.
The three men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon. Authorities say they were targeted because they were older, single, out-of-work men with backgrounds that made it unlikely their disappearances would be noticed right away.
All the victims were robbed of things including personal items, a truck and a weapon, prosecutors say.
Davis' escape on Nov. 6, 2011, is what led authorities to find Pauley's body in the same area where Davis was shot. Geiger's body also was found in Noble County, while Kern's body was found in a shallow grave near an Akron-area shopping mall.
Beasley was a Texas parolee who returned to Ohio in 2004 after serving time on a burglary conviction. He was awaiting trial on prostitution and drug charges when authorities took him into custody.
Police have said a halfway house he ran in Akron was a front for prostitution.