A Summit County judge has ruled that statements a Stow teen made to law-enforcement officers investigating the so-called Craigslist murders are admissible at his pending trial.
Common Pleas Judge Lynne S. Callahan, who took the matter under advisement after a two-day hearing earlier this month, wrote in the decision she signed this week that officers did not intimidate or coerce Brogan Rafferty to obtain the allegedly incriminating statements.
The issue was a suspect’s longstanding rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present in a police interview.
Authorities in Noble and Summit counties, with FBI assistance, say they have linked an Akron man, Richard Beasley, and Rafferty, 17, to three shooting deaths and one attempted murder last year in connection with a bogus Craigslist help-wanted ad.
Rafferty’s first interview, at Stow-Munroe Falls High School on Nov. 16, was followed by interviews at his parents’ home that night and the next morning at the Noble County Sheriff’s Office in southern Ohio.
Dealing with the school interview first, Callahan wrote that Rafferty “expressed an understanding of the concept of self-incrimination, referring to it as ‘digging a hole.’?”
The judge said he displayed “no outward stress after the interview,” voluntarily signed a waiver of his Miranda rights at the outset, then “was seen ‘high-fiving’ a fellow student in the hall” afterward.
In the interview at his parents’ home, officers were “even-toned and calm throughout” and made no threats, Callahan ruled.
Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel told the judge in the court hearings that Rafferty’s parents were present and “no trickery” was involved.
“They’re talking about bodies being found and their son digging graves,” Baumoel said.
Before that interview, according to Callahan’s ruling, Rafferty again signed a form waiving his Miranda rights.
In the interview at the sheriff’s office, when Rafferty already was under arrest for the crimes, an officer once again read him his rights. The teen signed the waiver and gave his statements knowingly and voluntarily, without any coercive tactics, the judge ruled.
All three of those interviews were recorded, and the judge used the recordings in her decision.
John Alexander Jr., Rafferty’s lawyer, declined to comment Wednesday, citing a gag order Callahan imposed several months ago.
Rafferty, who was 16 at the time of the interviews, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 9 on aggravated murder and other charges accusing him of being an accomplice in the slayings.
Callahan’s ruling also dealt with a Nov. 23 statement by Rafferty after his initial Noble County attorney negotiated a plea agreement with prosecutors.
It was “time-sensitive,” the judge found, because hunting season was only days away.
“The investigation had led law-enforcement officers to believe that other bodies might be buried in the area and the prosecutor wanted to find the bodies before possible crime scenes could become contaminated by hunters,” the judge wrote.
The attorney “laid out the options” in the plea deal, and Rafferty decided to accept it, with his parents’ knowledge, and without any coercive conduct by the officers, the ruling stated.
Callahan also denied a defense assertion of ineffective assistance of counsel by permitting Rafferty to make his Nov. 23 statement.
“Here,” Callahan wrote, “[the attorney] sought to strike a bargain with prosecutors and thereby save his client from facing the rest of his life in prison.”
The prospect of Rafferty spending the rest of his life behind bars was not a threat but the truth, Callahan wrote.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.