Jury selection began Tuesday in the Summit County trial of a former Stow-Munroe Falls High School student charged with aggravated murder and other crimes in the deaths of three men lured by a bogus Craigslist want ad.
One by one, potential jurors were ushered in to Common Pleas Judge Lynne Callahan’s courtroom and questioned on two issues: their ability to commit to the court’s anticipated six-week trial schedule and their exposure to pretrial publicity in the expansive criminal investigation by federal, state and county law enforcement agencies.
Brogan Rafferty, now 17, has been under arrest since late last year in connection with three shooting deaths and one attempted murder police say are linked to the bogus ad seeking help on land in southeastern Ohio.
Opening statements in his trial are tentatively scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday, Callahan said.
Rafferty is charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and other felonies for his alleged role as an accomplice in the slayings.
Government attorneys have said in previous court proceedings that Summit and Noble county authorities, with assistance from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have linked an older Akron man, Richard Beasley, and Rafferty to the series of shooting deaths.
Among the potential jurors who were approved to continue for general questioning Thursday, one woman said she did not know many details about the case, except for seeing police mug shots of Beasley and Rafferty on television newscasts.
“I just remember the old man. He was so scary [looking],” the woman said. “I don’t remember the young man.”
Rafferty, dressed in a dark green polo shirt with blue stripes, white slacks, black belt and boat shoes, was sitting only a few feet away at the defense table.
He has a team of three attorneys: lead defense counsel John Alexander Jr., Jill Flagg and Edward Smith.
At the end of the day, both sides had agreed to approve 25 potential jurors for general questioning, a sign there should be little trouble in selecting a panel.
As the day wore on Tuesday, a male juror said he had some knowledge of the case from newspaper accounts, but did not know much beyond his impression that Beasley had somehow taken Rafferty under his wing. Flagg asked if he could put that knowledge aside and judge the case solely on the merits of testimony and evidence presented in court.
The man insisted he could.
“That’s the law of the land,” he said. Another potential male juror, who carried a thick novel into the courtroom as his round of questioning began, said at the very outset: “I’ve followed the case for the past eight or nine months.”
Callahan, who began each round of questioning, then asked the man if his opinion of the case would go to guilt or innocence. The man immediately replied, “Guilt.”
He was excused from service without another question.
Some testimony is expected to be graphic when the state begins presenting its case.
In an earlier hearing in Callahan’s court, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel said officers questioned Rafferty at his home in Stow with his parents present before his arrest.
“They’re talking about bodies being found and their son digging graves,” Baumoel said, arguing that Rafferty’s statements in that interview should be admissible as evidence.
Callahan later ruled in favor of the prosecution arguments for including the potential evidence.
Attorneys from both sides, along with any other parties directly involved in the case, are prohibited from commenting outside of court under a gag order Callahan has issued.
Two lawyers from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Emily Pelphrey and Paul Scarsella of the agency’s special prosecutions unit, are assigned to the government’s case.
Individual juror questioning continues today.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.