Prosecutors in the aggravated murder trial of Brogan Rafferty began their case Friday morning by calling the Stow teenager an able student.
“He’s a student in the art of robbery, deception and murder,” a special prosecutor, Emily Pelphrey of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, told a Summit County jury in the government’s opening statement.
Rafferty, 17, is a former Stow-Munroe Falls High School student. He is charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, a count of attempted murder related to the lone survivor of the shootings, Scott Davis, and many additional felonies in the deaths of three men who answered Craigslist ads last year for a nonexistent farm job in Noble County in southern Ohio.
Rafferty is being tried as an adult.
In the state’s case against Rafferty, who was 16 at the time the crimes occurred, he is charged with three counts of aggravated murder in each of the three slayings.
“The state can offer alternate theories [for the murders],” Pelphrey explained in her 35-minute opening statement.
In the first count of aggravated murder, prosecutors say it was done with prior calculation and design. The other two counts, according to the Summit County indictment, allege that murder was committed as a proximate result of the crimes of aggravated robbery and kidnapping, respectively.
Pelphrey called Rafferty a willing participant in the slayings and the attempted murder, describing him as “the other half of the criminal enterprise” with an older man, his mentor, Richard Beasley of Akron.
Cell-phone records, Pelphrey noted, will place Beasley and Rafferty in “close proximity to the victims.”
The slayings occurred over a four-month period, between August and November 2011, Pelphrey said.
All four men, down on their luck, were “looking for the light at the end of the tunnel” by answering the Craigslist ads, she said.
The job supposedly was on 600-plus acres and paid $300 per week with a two-bedroom trailer.
“They all thought their luck was about to change,” Pelphrey said.
Chronology of slayings
Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron, was the first murder victim. He was shot in the head Aug. 9, and his body was found by authorities “buried in a hole” on Nov. 25, Pelphrey said.
David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va., was the next victim. He was shot in the head on Oct. 23, and his body was found, also buried in a shallow grave, four months later, Pelphrey said.
The surviving victim, Davis, now 49, sold a landscaping business in South Carolina and came to Ohio under the failed promise of the farm job. He was shot in the elbow and fled moments later on Nov. 6, after the gun allegedly used by Beasley failed momentarily, Pelphrey said.
Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, was the last victim. On Nov. 13, He was shot four times in the head and buried in a wooded area behind the Rolling Acres Mall property, Pelphrey said.
His body, she said, was found Nov. 25 in a shallow grave.
Rafferty dug the grave, Pelphrey told the jury, saying the teen remarked during the grisly process: “I don’t think he quite fit. His body was too big.”
Davis, who said he has family in Massillon, was the first prosecution witness. In short, crisp answers to Pelphrey’s questions, he described the chilling circumstances of how he was shot — and got away.
He met Beasley, who he knew only as “Jack” at the time, and Rafferty, supposedly Beasley’s nephew, at a Shoney’s restaurant for breakfast.
“They said we had to go down there [to the farm] and repair some roads,” Davis testified.
When they got to a deeply wooded area, Davis said, he and Beasley got out of the car. He said Rafferty did not go with them.
“We started walking back through the woods,” he told the jury, pointing out that he did not see any farm equipment.
As they continued walking, nearing a hill, Davis testified he heard “a cuss word and a gun cock” from behind, where Beasley was walking.
“I knew I was in trouble,” he said.
Running for his life
Davis said he spun around, got shot in the elbow and started running as fast as he could, tripping and falling often “in the sticks and the mud and the trees.”
Beasley, Davis testified, continued firing.
Davis said he managed to get away and wound up hiding by a tree, staying there for seven hours — terrified and bleeding profusely at first, he said — until he finally calmed down, walked out and found a home about three miles away.
The son of the man who owned the home called 911 to alert authorities, Davis said.
In the first three shootings, Pelphrey stressed that Beasley and Rafferty made the trip together, from the Akron area in Rafferty’s car, to the fictitious Noble County farmland where Geiger and Pelphrey were shot to death — the same place Davis escaped with his life after hiding for seven hours in the woods.
“Brogan Rafferty,” Pelphrey said, speaking slowly to the jury from the courtroom podium, “had chance, after chance, after chance, and he made the choices. He made the choices that he wanted to make.”
Then, in an apparent attempt to show Rafferty acted knowingly and purposely in the shootings, Pelphrey returned to her student analogy.
“Brogan Raffterty was a student, but what was he a student of at this point? He was a student of violent crime. As he was learning that,” Pelphrey said, “he was learning how to bury people.
“He was the driver, he was the hole digger and, ladies and gentlemen, the state contends he was the other half of the criminal enterprise. He was the other hand,” she said.
Defense states case
John Alexander Jr., Rafferty’s lead defense counsel, was next in opening statements.
He began by standing in front of the jury box, stressing to the panel that Rafferty was only 16 when the Craigslist crimes occurred.
Alexander said Rafferty came from a broken home and, when he was only 7 years old, Beasley “entered his life” as his confidant and inspirational spiritual adviser.
But Beasley, Alexander stressed, “was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Rafferty had “absolutely no idea how dark the man was,” Alexander said.
In the final months of the 10-year relationship between Beasley and Rafferty, he said, Beasley became the teen’s mentor, then a compelling force to make Rafferty act as he did.
If he did not do Beasley’s bidding, Alexander said, Rafferty feared Beasley would kill the teen’s mother and sister.
“This was a period of horror for over four months,” Alexander said.
He told the jury flatly that Rafferty’s defense, under Ohio law, would be that he acted under duress.
And an independent psychologist will testify, in fact, “that [Rafferty] didn’t voluntarily do any of this,” Alexander said.
He did a short cross-examination of Davis on his description of the shooting and the escape. Alexander’s concluding question was: “Brogan Rafferty was nowhere around, was he?”
“No, he wasn’t,” Davis answered.
The state’s case is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Monday.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.