AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberating on Monday in the trial of an Ohio street preacher accused of murdering down-on-their-luck men who answered a Craigslist ad for a non-existent job.
Richard Beasley, 53, was a “master manipulator” who preyed on people who were “easy targets and desperate for a better life,” Jonathan Baumoel, Summit County assistant prosecuting attorney, told jurors in Akron, Ohio, during closing arguments in the case.
“He earned their trust and it cost them their lives,” Baumoel said.
Beasley faces the death penalty for the 2011 murders of David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Virginia; Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron, Ohio; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, Ohio.
Beasley is accused of killing Geiger first after luring him with the possibility of a non-existent job, stealing his identity, and then killing the other two men after they answered a Craigslist ad for the job.
Beasley is also charged with the attempted murder of a South Carolina man, Scott Davis, who testified earlier in the trial that he answered the ad for a $300-dollar-a-week farmhand job.
Baumoel told jurors that although there was no DNA evidence linking Beasley to the murders, the overwhelming number of connections between him and the dead men is “the DNA of the crime telling you who committed these crimes.”
Beasley, dressed in a dark sport coat and tie, took notes and sometimes shook his head as Baumoel made his arguments.
Defense attorney James Burdon told jurors Beasley was “a fall guy” and all the evidence in the case was circumstantial. The defense said members of a local motorcycle gang are the real killers and that witnesses lied to protect themselves.
Burdon admitted that Beasley was trying to evade getting arrested by using false identities and helped post the Craigslist ad but denied killing anyone.
The attacks were among a series of incidents involving social media in which 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. Last year, two men in Tennessee were accused of killing a man and a woman for “unfriending” the daughter of one of the suspects on Facebook.
Beasley’s alleged accomplice, Brogan Rafferty, 18, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without parole in November for his role in the deadly scheme.
The jurors in the Beasley case are sequestered. They will deliberate until 9 p.m. local time Monday.
Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Todd Eastham