By Phil Trexler, Akron Beacon Journal –
AKRON, Ohio — A psychiatrist doubts Brogan Rafferty’s claims that he helped kill three men out of fear and instead believes the Ohio teen was motivated by money and pleasing his hero figure.
Dr. Stephen Noffsinger testified Wednesday as a rebuttal witness for prosecutors as the evidence portion of the so-called Craigslist killings trial was ending. Closing arguments in Summit County Common Pleas Court are expected Thursday morning, followed by jury deliberations.
Rafferty, 17, of Stow, is charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping and robbery. He faces a maximum of life in prison.
The former Stow-Munroe Falls High School student contends he only cooperated in the killing of three men and the attempted slaying of a fourth out of fear that his longtime friend and spiritual mentor, Richard Beasley, would follow through on death threats.
A defense expert, psychologist Dr. James Eisenberg, supported Rafferty’s assertions and essentially repeated the teen’s testimony from Tuesday: He was afraid of Beasley, who he saw as a “hero figure” and believed Beasley would kill Rafferty’s mother or sister if authorities were alerted.
“This 16-year-old boy just saw his hero kill someone and he buried someone at Mr. Beasley’s insistence,” Eisenberg testified. “I just think for him, there was no way to extract that and do the right thing out of fear for himself or his family.”
But Noffsinger debunked Eisenberg’s conclusions, finding after an examination of the case records and an interview with the teen, that Rafferty’s claims of duress were not supported by the facts of the case nor by his own behavior over four months in 2011 when the shootings took place.
Rafferty’s evolving accounts of the shootings, he said, meet the criteria of a shifting alibi that is “self-serving,” “not credible” and designed to “limit responsibility.” It’s more likely, he said, that Rafferty benefitted from the killing spree.
“Brogan had a rational motive for committing the offenses, namely to help Mr. Beasley, to receive some of the property of the victims and to receive the friendship and approval of Mr. Beasley,” Noffsinger said.
“That in my mind was a much more likely motive, supported by the evidence, as opposed to the claim that he was acting (out of fear.)”
Eisenberg, under cross-examination by assistant prosecutor Jon Baumoel, conceded he did not review some of Rafferty’s initial statements to police in which he denied knowledge of the killings nor express any fear of Beasley.
Baumoel also reintroduced audio tape of Rafferty’s interview in which the teen made contradictory statements about whether or not he knew the first victim was going to be killed.
Defense attorneys had hoped that Eisenberg would tell jurors about his findings that Rafferty was a child abuse victim of Beasley, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and acted under duress during and after the killings. However, Judge Lynne Callahan granted a state motion to block such testimony, allowing Eisenberg to only testify about his other findings.
Eisenberg’s testimony opened the door for Noffsinger’s critical testimony. Noffsinger went on to point out numerous occasions between the first killing in August 2011 and the final one in November 2011 when Rafferty could have contacted police or his family for help, if he truly feared Beasley.
Rafferty also had opportunities to warn the four victims “of what was about to happen to them” or at least overpower the older, overweight and much shorter Beasley and use one of his own firearms to subdue his mentor.
Instead, Noffsinger told jurors of times when Rafferty willingly drove Beasley, 53, to and from rural Noble County where three of the four shootings took place. He also had friendly visits with Beasley during the time frame that included drinking alcohol, talking on the phone or visiting McDonald’s.
Finally, Noffsinger pointed to police reports showing that after some of the killings, Beasley gave Rafferty money and property belonging to the victims. The items included a sawed-off shotgun, a .22-caliber pistol and tools.
“He had two months between the first and second killing to inform authorities and he failed to do so,” Noffsinger said. “If Brogan truly believed he was under immediate danger he would have called authorities or his parents and asked for help, but he didn’t.”
At least three victims responded to a Craigslist help-wanted ad describing a job to oversee a vast farm in Noble County in exchange for use of a trailer and $300 a week in salary. The ad was a ruse.
Prosecutors say Ralph Geiger, 56, of Akron, was the first victim. He was shot to death Aug. 9 and buried in Noble County. The second victim, David Pauley, 51, of Virginia, was shot around Oct. 23 in the same location.
Authorities learned of the scheme after Scott Davis, 48, of South Carolina, escaped after being shot in the arm during a visit of the site on Nov. 6. A week later, Timothy Kern, 47, answered the ad. He was shot and killed in Akron.
Beasley has pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges. He is set for trial in January.