COLUMBUS, Ohio — The evidence against an Ohio man accused of killing three down-and-out men lured by fake Craigslist job offers wasn’t strong enough to convict him, according to attorneys fighting the defendant’s death sentence.
No physical evidence links death row inmate Richard Beasley to the killings, his attorneys argued in a court filing with the Ohio Supreme Court.
It also doesn’t make sense that someone would go to great lengths to target the poor individuals whom Beasley was charged with killing, the attorneys said.
The “result of these labors would be to rob homeless, destitute individuals with little or no property or money,” according to a filing by Beasley’s attorneys.
Prosecutors say Beasley’s motives were so callous and depraved they befuddle the average citizen.
“There is no question that common sense among reasonable persons may have a hard time grasping the sheer depravity of such conduct, but the degree of such depravity certainly does not call into question the veracity of the evidence,” the state argued in its own filing.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday for and against Beasley’s death sentence. A ruling isn’t expected for months.
Beasley, 58, a self-styled street preacher, was convicted of partnering with a teenage boy in 2011 to lure victims with promises of jobs on a southeastern Ohio farm. The job offers were posted on Craigslist.
A jury convicted Beasley in 2013 and a judge sentenced him to death. Co-defendant Brogan Rafferty, who was 16 at the time of the killings and not eligible for the death penalty, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
Beasley maintains his innocence and argues someone with a biker gang he was affiliated with was responsible.
Several errors during Beasley’s trial are enough to overturn the death sentence, attorney Donald Gallick told justices Tuesday.
Gallick questioned the fact a juror was allowed to stay on after she realized she knew an FBI agent testifying for the prosecution. The agent testified about the search that led to Beasley’s arrest, not the evidence against him.
“Even though he isn’t giving testimony on some hotly contested matter, there’s no question whose side of the trial he’s on,” he said.
Beasley also objects to a prosecutor’s opening argument at trial that described Beasley as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and noted the phrase originated in a sermon by Jesus. Courts have already prohibited religious references in closing arguments, Gallick said.
Attorney Stephen Maher, representing the state, said the judge properly upheld an objection over the Bible reference and told jurors to ignore it.
“The trial judge put a stop to it, sustained the defense objection and it never came up again at any time in the trial,” Maher said.
Maher also said the FBI agent known by a juror never testified about the guilt or innocence of Beasley.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell noted there is evidence to support the state’s case against Beasley. “There’s some reason those individuals went to that farm,” O’Donnell said.
Beasley also says extensive pretrial publicity prevented him from getting a fair trial in Summit County.
State prosecutors say the publicity barely made an impact on the jury pool.
One victim was killed near Akron, and the others were shot at the farm in Noble County about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Columbus.
The slain men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Virginia; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon.
All were down-and-out men looking for a fresh start in life, prosecutors repeatedly said during Beasley’s trial.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.