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February 26, 2013

Trial of minister in Craigslist killings begins in Ohio

AKRON, Ohio — Richard Beasley is no saint. He’s also not a triple murderer, his attorney told a jury Monday.

The opening remarks by defense attorney James Burdon reflected the first public defense of Beasley, the self-proclaimed Akron minister and purported mastermind of the 2011 Craigslist killings.

Burdon urged a newly seated Summit County jury to reserve judgment on Beasley and consider the lack of direct evidence linking the 53-year-old to any of the three killings of men who answered the Internet ad for a bogus farmhand job in rural southeast Ohio.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, countered that Beasley is merely a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who preyed on down-on-their-luck men in need of work.

One of those victims is the state’s key witness, Scott Davis, a Stark County resident who answered the help-wanted ad and wound up being shot while visiting the rural site in November 2011.

It was only after Davis survived being shot that authorities learned of three other men who were killed after responding to a similar ad. The investigation led to the arrest of Beasley and his co-defendant, Stow teenager Brogan Rafferty.

Burdon, however, told jurors that Davis wasn’t targeted for murder. He implied instead that Beasley may have acted in self-defense during a “violent encounter” with Davis.

It was Davis’ identification of Beasley, along with computer and cellphone records linking Beasley to the ad, that led authorities to arrest the onetime street minister. Burdon said law enforcement followed the wrong path.

“He is not a saint. He has done a lot of things wrong in his life,” Burdon said of his client.

However, he said, Davis is accusing Beasley “of something he did not do.”

Among Beasley’s wrongdoings, Burdon said, was befriending members of two area motorcycle clubs with a reputation for violence. One of those friends, Burdon said, owns property near the site of the Davis shooting and the shallow graves of two other men.

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