By Kim Palmer
AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Richard Beasley, a street preacher accused of murdering down-on-their luck men who answered a Craigslist ad for a nonexistent job in Ohio, denied the charges at his trial on Wednesday and said witnesses against him were lying.
Beasley, 53, who is charged with the murder of three men in 2011, two of whom were lured by the Craigslist ad, told jurors he is the victim of a conspiracy by members of a motorcycle gang who wanted to kill him because he was a "snitch."
If convicted, Beasley faces the death penalty in the murders of David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Virginia; Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron; and Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, Ohio.
He is also charged with the attempted murder of Scott Davis, who answered the Craigslist ad and was shot in the arm while escaping after meeting Beasley and his teenage accomplice, Brogan Rafferty.
Rafferty, 18, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without parole in November for his role in the deadly scheme. He was 16 years old at the time of the crimes and not subject to the death penalty.
In the Akron trial on Wednesday, Beasley denied the prosecution's assertion that he shot and killed Geiger to use the man's identity and avoid being arrested on numerous warrants for drugs and prostitution.
Geiger voluntarily gave Beasley his identity, Beasley said, so that Beasley could start a new life. Prosecutors contend that Beasley lured Geiger with the offer of a nonexistent caretaker job on a 680-acre ranch in rural Ohio, killed him, stole his identity and dyed his own hair and beard to look like Geiger's.
The Craigslist attacks were among a series of incidents in which people advertising goods for sale or responding to ads on social media have been killed. In 2009, a former medical student was accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist.
Beasley also said Wednesday that Davis, who testified last week, had pointed a gun at him and said, "Brother, you are a weak link," shot at him three times and then another three times as they struggled for the gun.
Beasley said "weak link" is motorcycle slang for a snitch. He said Rafferty and Davis must have discovered that he had been a criminal informant for Akron police on the illegal activities of local motorcycle gangs and planned to kill him.
Under cross-examination, Beasley called witnesses who had testified for the prosecution "liars" and claimed that some were in on the conspiracy to kill him. He also called Summit County assistant prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel a liar when he accused Beasley of shooting and killing Pauley. "I did not do that and you didn't see it, nobody saw it," he shouted.
Prosecutors listed Rafferty as a potential witness but did not call him to testify before wrapping up their case on Tuesday. Rafferty could be called if a deal were negotiated with his defense attorneys, who have said they plan to appeal his conviction.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Akron; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Prudence Crowther)