AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Jury selection began under tight security Tuesday in the trial of the alleged mastermind of a deadly plot to lure robbery victims with phony Craigslist job offers, a scheme that led to three deaths and the wounding of a fourth man.
Nine uniformed deputies watched as more than 200 prospective jurors for the murder trial of Richard Beasley entered the lobby of the ornate, 84-year-old Akron Civic Theater because there was no courthouse room big enough.
Beasley, who has hidden his face in his hands and lap in previous appearances before a judge, waived his right to be present in the theater but sat with his attorneys during individual questioning in the trial courtroom.
In contrast to his mug shot, in which he is unshaved and his hair tousled, Beasley had his beard trimmed into a neat goatee and his hair combed. Beasley, who has back problems, sat in a wheelchair pushed by a deputy and wore a white shirt, striped tie and dark suit.
Judge Lynne Callahan said jury selection could extend into next week and the trial could last six weeks. She expects opening statements Feb. 27.
Prosecutors have portrayed Beasley, 53, as an ex-con street preacher in Akron and mentor to a teenager convicted in the plot. Beasley has pleaded not guilty to a 27-count indictment.
Brogan Rafferty, who was then 17, was sentenced to life in prison in November after being found guilty in the plot. Because of his age, he wasn't eligible for the death penalty.
The judge cautioned prospective jurors not to discuss the case and to avoid media coverage. Prospective jurors filled the first few rows of the 2,585-seat theater and TV cameras were lined up across the back.
Prospective jurors filled out questionnaires and were divided into small groups and given times to report to the judge's courtroom for questioning. The judge said questions would focus on the length of the trial, pre-trial publicity and views of the death penalty.
During individual questioning, the judge asked prospective jurors if they could weigh aggravated circumstances against Beasley and mitigating circumstances in his favor. She also asked if prospective jurors had any moral objections to the death penalty.
Jurors will be sequestered in a hotel while deliberating the verdict and, if necessary, on whether to recommend the death sentence. Any sentencing proceeding with the jury hearing more from both sides likely would begin April 8, the judge said.
Summit County Sheriff's Inspector William Holland said the beefed-up security reflected the demands of safeguarding the many entrances to the theater.
Prosecutors have asked deputies to bring Rafferty from prison to testify at Beasley's trial. At his sentencing, Rafferty said the crimes were horrible but said he didn't recognize any chance to stop the killings.
His defense attorney told the judge that Rafferty is willing to testify against Beasley. He said his client wouldn't stand convicted if it wasn't for Beasley.
The jury rejected the defense claim that Rafferty feared for himself and his family if he didn't cooperate with Beasley.
Prosecutors say the victims, all down in their luck and with few family ties that might highlight their disappearance, were lured with phony offers of southeast Ohio farmhand jobs on Craigslist in 2011.
The murdered men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon. The lone survivor, Scott Davis, was shot in the arm, knocked the weapon aside and fled into the woods.
Davis, of South Carolina, was looking to move closer to his family in the Canton area.