To see more about the crimes Richard Beasley and Brogan Rafferty committed, click here to buy the Beacon Journal eBook The Craigslist Killings.
The capital-murder trial of Richard James Beasley, suspect in the 2011 Craigslist killings, began with jury selection Tuesday morning in a rare setting: the Akron Civic Theatre.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Lynne S. Callahan, who is handling the trial, addressed some 200 prospective jurors from a podium erected in the center of the downtown theater’s stage.
The jurors, who first passed through security checkpoints in the ornate main lobby, sat in the front rows of the massive, tiered gallery where spectators have watched decades of performances by the country’s biggest stage and screen stars.
Callahan began her pretrial remarks at 9:30 a.m., telling the throng that Beasley’s trial could take as long as six weeks.
Beasley, 53, who was not present at the Civic for the beginning of the jury selection process, appeared in a wheelchair at the county courthouse at 10:10 a.m., under guard by several sheriff’s deputies.
He wore a dark business suit, his hair appeared tussled, he was holding a cane in his left hand and he had his right hand covering his face as he was escorted inside Callahan’s regular courtroom.
Opening statements, followed by the evidentiary phase of the trial, Callahan said, are tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 27.
Beasley, an Akron resident, is charged with three counts of aggravated murder — each carrying a death-penalty specification — and other crimes in the 2011 shooting deaths of three men and the attempted murder of a fourth.
Scott Davis, the lone survivor from the shootings, has been subpoenaed to testify against Beasley, court records show.
Three men who answered the Craigslist ads for a nonexistent job in Noble County in southern Ohio were killed between August and November 2011.
If Beasley is convicted of any of the aggravated murder counts, according to Ohio law, he could face the death penalty.
Callahan said last week the Civic was chosen because the county courthouse has no room or area spacious enough to accommodate so many prospective jurors.
The commander of courthouse security, Sheriff’s Lt. Candy Fatheree, said about 12 deputies were at the Civic to provide security and check each member of the jury pool before allowing entry to the theater.
At 8:45 a.m., with a light, chilling rain falling outside, dozens of potential jurors waited in line in the main lobby to pass through security.
Two special prosecutors, Emily Pelphrey and Paul Scarsella from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in Columbus, were seated at a table onstage with Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel and a case investigator from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Beasley’s lawyers, James L. Burdon and Lawrence J. Whitney, were seated at a second table beside the podium.
Callahan’s remarks at the Civic took 15 minutes.
Afterward, her bailiff passed out cards to all of the jurors with a date and time to report to the courthouse for individual questioning, in smaller groups, by the judge and the attorneys.
Jurors will be questioned initially, Callahan said, about three key issues: the length of the trial, pretrial publicity and personal views on the death penalty.
All four Craigslist victims were down on their luck and answered the ads, prosecutors have said, “looking for light at the end of the tunnel.”
The job that the ads promised was supposedly on 600-plus acres and paid $300 per week with a two-bedroom trailer.
Lured by the thought their luck was about to change, the victims were caught totally unaware, prosecutors said, in a plot hatched by Beasley and his co-defendant, Brogan Rafferty, 17, of Stow.
Rafferty, who was 16 at the time of the crimes, was convicted of three counts of aggravated murder last year. Callahan sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole.
The first murder victim was Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron. He was shot Aug. 9, 2011. Authorities found his body buried in a hole Nov. 25.
The next victim was David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va. He was killed Oct. 23 in the same manner. His body was buried in a shallow grave, prosecutors said, and was discovered later.
Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, was the last victim of the fatal shootings. He died of multiple gunshots to the head and was buried in a shallow grave in a wooded area behind Rolling Acres Mall in southwest Akron. His body was found the same day as Geiger’s.
Prosecutors revealed details of the slayings in opening statements and the evidentiary phase of Rafferty’s trial.
He, too, is expected to testify against Beasley, who was said to be a mentor and religious adviser to the teen since childhood.
Thirty minutes into Tuesday’s courtroom proceedings, Beasley’s lawyers asked a man who previously had filled out his court-assigned juror questionnaire about his detailed observations on pretrial publicity.
Whitney asked a series of questions about the man, revealing that he had heard Beasley was “an odd, sick man.”
“I’m just going on what was out there,” the man said.
After several minutes, he told Whitney he could set aside his observations and decide the case based solely on the evidence.
Earlier in the morning at the Civic, Callahan told the jury pool that the key issue in questioning will be “whether you have formed an opinion about the case and whether you can set it aside” to reach verdicts based only on the evidence presented in court.
Callahan said 12 jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear Beasley’s case.
The panel will be sequestered only for deliberations, the judge said.
A gag order has been imposed, prohibiting all parties from commenting on the case outside of court proceedings.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.