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Ohio self-styled street preacher sentenced to death for Craigslist plot

Mar. 26: Richard Beasley in court at the Summit County Courthouse in Akron, Ohio. Beasley is a triple killer who lured victims with bogus job offers on Craigslist.AP Photo, Akron Beacon Journal

A self-styled street preacher was sentenced to death Thursday in the killings of three down-and-out men lured by bogus job offers posted on Craigslist.

The jury that convicted Richard Beasley of murder recommended that he face execution. The judge had the option of reducing the sentence to life in prison.

Beasley, 53, was convicted of teaming up with a teenager in 2011 to use the promise of jobs on a southeast Ohio farm to lure them into robberies. Three men were killed, and a fourth who was wounded testified at Beasley's trial.

The judge read the three death sentences in a hushed courtroom crowded with victims' relatives, some of them holding back tears, Beasley skipped the chance to speak to the judge before the sentencing. He asked to speak later, but the judge said that was his chance, and he passed on it. He listened to the verdict with his head on his chest, sitting in a wheelchair he uses for back pain.

Beasley's co-defendant, who was 16 at the time of the crimes, 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.

One victim 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 looking for a fresh start in life, prosecutors 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, claimed at trial that Davis had in fact pulled a gun on him in retaliation for Beasley serving as a police informant in a motorcycle gang investigation.

In arguing the sentence before the jury, both sides highlighted Rafferty's case: The defense said his life sentence should factor into the jury's deliberations but prosecutors said it shouldn't because Rafferty's age ruled out the death penalty entirely.

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

Carol Beasley testified that her son had a troubled childhood and suffered physical abuse by his stepfather.

She also said she learned within the past year that her son had been sexually abused by neighborhood youngsters.

"I always felt there was much more than he told me," she said.

As she testified, Beasley slumped forward, his chin on his chest and his right hand covering his eyes.

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.

Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel had urged jurors to consider the "enormous" weight of Beasley's crimes as they considered his punishment, calling him "the worst of the worst."