By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio man accused of killing three people and wounding a fourth after luring them through bogus Craigslist ads for a job as a farm caretaker pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the charges, which could carry a death sentence.
Richard J. Beasley, 52, faces a 28-count indictment stemming from the killings. Brogan Rafferty, 17, has also been charged in the killings as an accomplice to Beasley.
Beasley appeared Wednesday in court by video conference and over the course of nearly an hour prosecutors read the charges against him, said April Wiesner, spokeswoman for the Summit County, Ohio, prosecutor's office.
Prosecutors have said they believe that Beasley fired the shots in the three killings and the wounding of the fourth man.
Beasley and Rafferty are suspected of luring the men to Noble County with the promise of a job on a 688-acre property, telling them to bring all of their belongings.
The killings are the latest in a string of incidents across the nation where accused attackers apparently found their victims through ad postings on Craigslist or other social media sites.
In 2009, a former medical student was accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist and police believe that a serial killer, or killers, in the New York area may be preying on prostitutes who advertised on the site.
In other incidents, victims advertising goods for sale have been attacked and killed as have those responding to ads.
In the Ohio killings, Beasley was charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and identity theft. Rafferty was charged with three counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated robbery and four counts of kidnapping, Wiesner said.
Prosecutors have opted to pursue the charges against Beasley and Rafferty in Summit County, where one of the crimes occurred.
Rafferty was charged originally as a juvenile in Noble County, where two men were killed and a third wounded. A Noble County judge ordered him to face charges as an adult, but with the transfer of the case to Summit County, prosecutors must re-file their request to try Rafferty as an adult.
Beasley and Rafferty have been charged with the attempted murder of Scott Davis, 48 of South Carolina, who was shot after meeting them and driving with them to a secluded area.
They are also charged with killing Ralph Geiger, 56 of Akron, Ohio, David Pauley, 51 of Norfolk, Virginia and Timothy Kern, 47 of Massillon, Ohio. The bodies of the three men were found in November in shallow graves after Rafferty's arrest.
Summit County prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh has said prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Beasley if he is convicted of aggravated murder. Ohio law bars prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against Rafferty because he was under age 18 at the time of the crimes.
A pre-trial hearing for Beasley is scheduled for February 8.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by David Bailey and Greg McCune)