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Judge in Craigslist murder case weighs suppression arguments

By Ed Meyer, Akron Beacon Journal –

AKRON, Ohio—Moments before Brogan Rafferty’s first interview with a detective in November, the teen reviewed and signed his Miranda warning in a Stow-Munroe Falls High School office, prosecutors in the Craigslist murder case said Friday.

A suspect’s long-standing rights to remain silent and to ask to have an attorney present were read to him, prosecutors said, by Noble County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Mackie.

The detective also recorded that first interview, on Nov. 16, and subsequent interviews of Rafferty at his parents’ home later that night and at the Noble County Sheriff’s Office in southeastern Ohio the following morning, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel said in court arguments.

In deciding whether Rafferty’s allegedly incriminating statements should be allowed at his trial, Baumoel told Common Pleas Judge Lynne Callahan she will have the benefit of hearing the full recordings of those interviews. He stressed that the content of Mackie’s interview at the parents’ home, in particular, was unmistakably clear.

“They’re talking about bodies being found and their son digging graves. There’s no trickery here,” Baumoel told the judge.

Callahan said at the end of the two-day suppression hearing that she will take the matter under advisement.

Rafferty, now 17, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 9 on multiple counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and other felonies for his alleged role as an accomplice in the slayings.

Authorities in Noble and Summit Counties, with assistance from the FBI, said they have linked an Akron man, Richard Beasley, and the Stow teen to three shooting deaths and one attempted murder last year in connection with a bogus Craigslist help-wanted ad.

Beasley, an apparent friend and spiritual mentor to Rafferty, is facing the death penalty on numerous counts of aggravated murder. His trial is scheduled to start Jan. 7 in Callahan’s court.

Despite earlier assertions by Rafferty’s defense team that the teen brought up the issue of an attorney five times in his first interview at the high school, Baumoel argued that “the law is clear” on Miranda.

“It has to be an unambiguous, unmistakable request to have an attorney,” he said.

The recorded interviews will show Rafferty finally made his request clear at the end of the school interview, telling Mackie and an FBI agent he would continue talking as long as he had an attorney, Baumoel said.

At that point, Mackie ended his questioning at the school, Bauomel said.

Attorney John Alexander Jr., Rafferty’s lead defense counsel, argued that the teen’s statements in his first three interviews, along with a Nov. 23 interview in which he agreed to cooperate with Noble County authorities in a prospective plea deal, should be thrown out.

Alexander emphasized that Rafferty was 16 when Mackie and the FBI began talking to him in the school office.

“He was pulled from his class and brought to the principal’s office — at a place where children go whenever they’re in trouble,” Alexander said at the outset. “It’s a small office, 10-by-10 with no windows, and they were in this office with the door shut — just the FBI agent, detective Mackie as well as Brogan — and they began questioning Brogan.

“They started off their investigation by lying to him, by telling him that they were investigating Richard Beasley, and not him,” Alexander continued.

“They knew at the time that they were investigating him, that they had search warrants to execute the search of his car. They knew they had search warrants to execute at his house, and they were, in fact, executing those search warrants at the time of their meeting with his parents.”

Rafferty did not have an attorney in either of those interviews, Alexander said, and the teen was not notified of the search warrants until the end of the interview at home.

Alexander argued that Mackie and the FBI used coercion to get the first two statements, as well as a 27-minute interview at Noble County sheriff’s headquarters on the morning of Nov. 17, when Rafferty already was under arrest.

That third interview, Alexander said, also was without his parents or an attorney, and it took place within an hour before Rafferty made his first Noble County court appearance.

“Questioning should have stopped immediately once a 16-year-old child mentioned he thinks he needs an attorney,” Alexander said.

To back up his argument for suppression, Alexander called veteran Akron defense attorney Don Hicks, who is certified by the Ohio Supreme Court to handle death penalty cases as lead counsel.

Hicks testified at length about his 28-plus years of experience in criminal cases, many involving juveniles. He said the justice system purposely places juveniles in a special category, in effect treating them as children.

“The courts in all states have recognized that their minds are not fully developed, that they are young, they are immature and that they are not experienced in worldly (matters),” Hicks said, “and as such, special needs are in place.”

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