Richard Beasley, a self-styled preacher turned triple killer who lured victims with bogus job offers on Craigslist, was sentenced today to the death penalty by an Ohio judge.
Beasley, 53, was convicted last month by a jury that recommended the death sentence.
The judge had the option of reducing the sentence to life in prison.
Beasley was convicted of teaming up with a teenager in 2011 to use the promise of jobs on a southeast Ohio farm to lure them into robberies. Three men were killed, and a fourth who was wounded testified at Beasley's trial.
The judge read the three death sentences in a hushed courtroom crowded with victims' relatives, some of them holding back tears.
Beasley skipped the chance to speak to the judge before the sentencing on the aggravated murder convictions. He listened to the verdict with his head on his chest, sitting in a wheelchair he uses for back pain.
Later, about to be sentenced on other crimes including kidnapping, Beasley said he sympathized with the families of victims but said he was innocent and expects to have his conviction overturned on appeal.
"I have killed nobody, and that's a fact," Beasley said.
"This case will be reversed," said Beasley, whose statement was cut short by the judge. She said he could comment on the sentencing only.
Co-accused got life in prison
Beasley's co-defendant, who was 16 at the time of the crimes, was too young to face the death penalty. Brogan Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole on his conviction last year.
One victim was killed near Akron, and the others were shot at a southeast Ohio farm during bogus job interviews.
The slain men were:
Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron.
David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.
Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, Ohio.
All were looking for a fresh start in life, prosecutors said repeatedly during the trial.
The survivor, Scott Davis, now 49, testified that he heard the click of a gun as he walked in front of Beasley at the reputed job site. Davis, who was shot in an arm, knocked the weapon aside, fled into the woods and tipped police.
Beasley didn't turn around to watch Davis tearfully denounce him and thank the judge for handing down the death sentence.
Davis said he was grateful to be alive and told the relatives of slain victims, "They didn't deserve what this animal did to them.
"Thank you again, God, for saving me from that beast," he said.
Victim's twin sister speaks out
Debra Bruce, Pauley's twin sister, choked back tears as she told Beasley, "You took my best friend, confidant and my twin."
Bruce said she was sickened by references to Beasley as a preacher or chaplain. "No true man of God would take lives," she said.
"David's death has left a wound in my heart that will never completely heal."
Beasley, who returned to Ohio from Texas in 2004 after serving several years in prison on a burglary conviction, claimed at trial that Davis had in fact pulled a gun on him in retaliation for Beasley serving as a police informant in a motorcycle gang investigation.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office worked with the Summit County prosecutor, watched the sentencing and said later there was no evidence of more victims, but he couldn't rule that out.
Based on what he knows about Beasley, "It would not surprise me at all if there's other homicides," DeWine said. "But whether we will ever find them or prove them, I can't say that."
In arguing the sentence before the jury, both sides highlighted Rafferty's case: The defence said his life sentence should factor into the jury's deliberations but prosecutors said it shouldn't because Rafferty's age ruled out the death penalty entirely.
The jury recommended execution after hearing two hours of testimony from witnesses, including Beasley's tearful mother, who were called to portray him sympathetically and press for leniency.
Carol Beasley testified that her son had a troubled childhood and suffered physical abuse by his stepfather. She also said she learned within the past year that her son had been sexually abused by neighbourhood youngsters.
"I always felt there was much more than he told me," she said.
As she testified, Beasley slumped forward, his chin on his chest and his right hand covering his eyes.
The defence also called a psychologist, John Fabian, who testified that Beasley suffers from depression, alcohol abuse, low self-esteem and a feeling of isolation, all possible results of a troubled, abusive childhood.
Beasley called 'the worst of the worst'
Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel had urged jurors to consider the "enormous" weight of Beasley's crimes as they considered his punishment, calling him "the worst of the worst."
Beasley will become the seventh person from Summit County currently on Ohio's death row. Twelve other people from Summit County were previously sentenced to death including one defendant, Donald Craig, who received separate death sentences for two different killings.
Several had their sentences overturned, one — Craig — died of natural causes, and five have been executed. The last inmate put to death from Summit County was Brett Hartman, executed last year for stabbing an Akron woman more than a hundred times, then cutting off her hands.
The county has a relatively low death sentence rate, according to data from the Ohio Supreme Court, the state prisons system and the state public defender's office analyzed by The Associated Press. Only one of every five defendants who have faced capital punishment charges since 1981 actually received a death sentence, according to the analysis.
Most defendants facing a death sentence pleaded guilty to avoid execution, with several receiving sentences of life with no chance of parole.