By Kim Palmer
AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Seventeen-year-old Brogan Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison without parole Friday for his role in the killing of three men, two of whom were lured by a Craigslist ad promising work on an Ohio farm.
Rafferty was 16 when he was arrested in November 2011, but was tried as an adult. He was convicted late last month in the murders of David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Virginia; Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron, Ohio; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, Ohio.
Rafferty also got 10 years for the attempted murder of Scott Davis, who was shot in the arm while escaping after meeting Rafferty and alleged triggerman Richard Beasley.
Prosecutors called the teen an apt pupil to Beasley, 53, who is also charged in the murders.
Rafferty testified that he was terrified of the man he had considered a father figure and spiritual adviser after he saw Beasley shoot Geiger in the head execution-style.
Beasley allegedly enticed Geiger with the offer of a non-existent caretaker job, killed him, stole his identity, and then drew other victims by posting the bogus job on Craigslist.
Rafferty, wearing prison stripes with hands clasped in front of him, told the court Friday that Beasley an "evil, deceitful cruel murderer," but admitted the he bore some responsibility.
"I was involved, I didn't like it, and now I see there were many options I couldn't see then that I see now, but I can't make anything better and I'm sorry," he said.
Judge Lynn Callahan called Rafferty's case "heartbreaking" but said she did not accept that he had no way out of his situation.
"You embraced the evil, you studied it," she said. She said Rafferty had been dealt "a lousy hand in life," but she found nothing in the case that could be chalked up to the recklessness of youth.
"You could have been so much more; you are so intelligent," the judge told Rafferty.
During the trial, jurors heard testimony that the teen helped dig graves for some of the men and was found in possession of guns and knives stolen from them after Beasley shot them.
Beasley's trial is scheduled in the same courtroom for January 7. He faces the death penalty if convicted. Both Rafferty's and Beasley's attorneys are under a gag order and are not permitted to talk to the media.
Under Ohio law, juveniles older than 15 who are charged with a serious offense and crimes that involve a firearm are sent to adult court for trial.
Last summer, a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The high court found that judges and juries passing sentence on juvenile murders must weigh mitigating circumstances, including the youth's role and family background.
A 2005 Supreme Court decision made it unconstitutional to execute anyone under the age of 18.
Rafferty's attorney Jill Flagg objected to his sentence and will appeal.
In other incidents involving Craigslist and other social media, people advertising goods for sale or responding to ads have been attacked and killed.
In 2009, a former medical student was accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist. In February, two men in Tennessee were accused of killing a man and a woman for "unfriending" the daughter of one of the suspects on Facebook.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Walsh)