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Ohio Craigslist jury gets death penalty issue

Thomas j. Sheeran, Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- A jury began deliberating on Wednesday whether to recommend the death penalty for a self-styled preacher convicted of killing three down-and-out men lured by bogus Craigslist job offers.

The same jury that convicted Richard Beasley, 53, last week could also recommend that he spend life in prison without the chance of parole or get life with a chance for parole after 25 or 30 years.

If jurors recommend death, Judge Lynne Callahan may sentence Beasley to death or one of the lesser options, likely life without parole. If the jury recommends prison, the judge may not toughen the sentence to death.

Beasley's co-defendant, then 16 years old, was too young to face the death penalty. Brogan Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole on his conviction last year.

In closing arguments, both sides highlighted Rafferty's life sentence in contrast to a possible death sentence for Beasley. The defense said that issue should factor into the jury's deliberations, but the prosecution said it wasn't an issue because Rafferty's age, by law, had ruled out death as an option.

Jurors will be sequestered in a hotel nightly until they reach a decision. The judge said jurors may deliberate until 9 p.m. if they want.

The jury received the case after hearing two hours of testimony from witnesses, including Beasley's tearful mother, who were called to portray him sympathetically and to press for leniency.

Carol Beasley testified that her son had a troubled childhood and had suffered physical and sexual abuse. "I love Richard with all my heart," she said.

As she testified, Beasley slumped forward, his chin on his chest and his right hand covering his eyes. He uses a wheelchair because of back pain.

She described a difficult childhood for her son, with a verbally and physically abusive stepfather whom Carol Beasley characterized as a mean drunk.

She testified that she learned only within the past year that her son had been sexually abused by neighborhood youngsters when he was a boy. She had known that the boys had forced him to remove his pants in a large drainage pipe but hadn't known about the abuse at the time, she said.

"I always felt there was much more than he told me," she testified. Her son apparently kept the abuse secret out of fear he would be held responsible for it, the mother said.

Her first husband neglected Richard and her, Carol Beasley testified, and her second husband broke dishes and a window while drinking and whipped Richard as a toddler. "Richard was very mistreated by him," she testified.

Carol Beasley testified that Richard and the couple's own two daughters would be put to bed early and sometimes were sent to relatives for the weekend to avoid contact with the father.

"Everybody was afraid when he came home," she said.

The defense also called a psychologist, John Fabian, who testified that Beasley suffers from depression, alcohol abuse, low self-esteem and a feeling of isolation, all possible results of a troubled, abusive childhood.

"These are all potential mitigating factors" in favor of leniency, Fabian testified.

Fabian said Beasley's issues should be considered in multi-generational terms involving him and his family life. "This is all his personality development," he said.

One of Beasley's victims was killed near Akron, and the others were shot at a southeast Ohio farm during bogus job interviews.

The slain men were Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon. All were down-and-out men looking for a fresh start in life, the prosecution said repeatedly during the trial.

The survivor, Scott Davis, now 49, testified that he heard the click of a gun as he walked in front of Beasley at the reputed job site. Davis, who was shot in an arm, knocked the weapon aside, fled into the woods and tipped police.

Beasley, who returned to Ohio from Texas in 2004 after serving several years in prison on a burglary conviction, testified that he met with Davis and Davis had pulled a gun in retaliation for Beasley serving as a police informant in a motorcycle gang investigation.