CLEVELAND – A self-styled chaplain suspected in a deadly scheme to rob people who replied to a Craigslist job ad will be charged with murder and attempted murder in attacks on four victims and could face the death penalty, a prosecutor said Monday.
The chief prosecutor in northeast Ohio's Summit County, Sherri Bevan Walsh, said local officials in southeast Ohio and state and federal officials signed off on an agreement to let her office take the lead against Richard Beasley, 52.
Three deaths and the wounding of a fourth man are part of the investigation in the plot to lure victims with the promise of a farm job in southeast Ohio.
"In deciding where and how to try this case, our primary concern was doing what is in the best interest of the victims and their families," said Walsh, who noted that most of the victims are from the Akron-Canton area.
Beasley, who has been jailed in Akron on unrelated prostitution and drug charges, has denied involvement in the Craigslist slayings. Email and phone messages seeking comment were left Monday for his attorney handling the drug case.
Beasley was arrested in November after authorities linked him to the alleged Craigslist plot.
An acquaintance of Beasley's, Brogan Rafferty, 16, of nearby of Stow, faces juvenile charges of aggravated murder, complicity to aggravated murder, attempted murder and complicity to attempted murder in the death of one man and the shooting of another.
Authorities say the plot's first victim, David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va., came to Ohio in mid-October after answering the Craigslist ad. A friend has said Pauley was desperate for work and eager to return to Ohio.
Police say he was killed Oct. 23, and his body was found Nov. 15. Family members had contacted police concerned they hadn't heard from him.
Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, whose body was buried near an Akron shopping mall, answered the ad and was last seen Nov. 13, authorities said.
The body of Ralph Geiger, the potential third victim, was found in a shallow grave Nov. 25.
A South Carolina man also answered the ad and was shot Nov. 6 before escaping, police say.
The murder and attempted murder charges will cover those four men, said April Wiesner, spokeswoman for the prosecutor. No timetable has been set for filing charges, she said.
Beasley was a Texas parolee when he returned to Ohio in 2004 after serving several years in prison on a burglary conviction. He was released from an Akron jail on July 12 after he posted bond on a drug-trafficking charge. Texas officials say he never should have been released from jail and that they issued a warrant for his arrest because the charge violated his parole.
Beasley appeared briefly in an Akron courtroom last week on the drug charge, wheeled into court after he apparently became ill and said he needed a wheelchair.
In a four-page handwritten letter to the Akron Beacon Journal, Beasley has said he has been miscast as a con man when he had helped feed, house and counsel scores of needy families, drunks, drug addicts, the mentally ill and crime suspects for years.
"To call me a con man when I sacrificed for others is wrong," wrote Beasley, who didn't mention the Craigslist investigation or Rafferty. "To turn their back on me is not following Christ's example. I gave three full years of my life to that ministry and what I got out of it was the satisfaction of doing the right thing. There was no 'con' to it."
Associated Press Legal Affairs Writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.