AKRON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio teenager taken under the wing of a man defense attorneys described as a master manipulator 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.
Rafferty stood with his hands clasped behind his back and showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. His mother leaned over and cried softly.
Led from the courtroom, Rafferty shook his head and said, "Nothing to say." He didn't respond to reporters' questions about the verdict.
Prosecutors and the defense, who are under a gag order, didn't comment afterward. The father of victim Timothy Kern flashed a "thumbs up" after the verdicts were read but declined to comment when he left the courtroom.
Jury forewoman Dana Nash and other jurors said it was a difficult decision because of the boy's age, calling him "a child" on a couple of occasions.
Jurors said they worked on the 25 charges against Rafferty one by one, with the most difficult one involving evidence surrounding the death of the first victim, Ralph Geiger. Rafferty was acquitted of a single identity theft charge involving Geiger.
Jurors debated each charge and often reviewed their own notes and evidence presented at trial, including audio interviews Rafferty gave investigators.
Nash said they were skeptical of some of Rafferty's testimony, saying they felt as if he contradicted himself at points, as well as in his interviews with investigators.
"We were trying to be fair, and we were fair," Nash said afterward. "We listened to everything, we observed everything, and we feel we made the right decision."
Rafferty had 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 faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison because he is a juvenile. His sentencing is set for Nov. 5.
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.