AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The prosecution in the murder case against a man charged with killing three men by luring them with Craigslist job offers urged jurors on Monday to use their common sense and return guilty verdicts, but the defense said the identify theft and robbery motives were baseless.
Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel repeatedly mentioned the three victims and a fourth jobseeker who survived an attack and told jurors there was no reasonable doubt that Richard Beasley, 53, 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.
The case was headed to the jury for deliberations after closing arguments by both sides.
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.
Beasley was using one victim's ID before the man was killed, Burdon said. "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, according to Burdon.
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, an ex-convict and one-time street preacher, could face the death penalty if convicted.
His 18-year-old co-defendant, Brogan Rafferty, was convicted and sentenced last year to life in prison without chance of parole. Brogan 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 Brogan 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 disappearance. 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. Rafferty 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, but said Davis was the one who pulled a gun in retaliation for Beasley's role as a police informant in a motorcycle gang investigation.
Davis, who was the star witness at Rafferty's trial, also testified against Beasley. Davis 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.
"Only by the grace of God did he escape with his life," Baumoel told the jury.