Scott Davis, the star witness as the prosecution began presenting its aggravated murder case against Brogan Rafferty, told a harrowing story of running for his life after he was shot in the arm and hiding in the woods of southeast Ohio for hours after a farm job interview ended in a burst of gunfire.
"I was worried about bleeding to death," Davis testified.
Prosecutors say the plot involving Rafferty and self-styled chaplain Richard Beasley led to the killings of three men desperate for work who responded to Craigslist job ads and to Davis' shooting.
Davis, testifying in a crowded, hushed courtroom, described how he responded to one such ad, sold his South Carolina business and moved last year to be closer to his family in the Canton area.
Davis said he, a man who called himself "Jack" and Rafferty shared a restaurant breakfast before Rafferty drove the trio to an isolated Noble County farm, ostensibly to show Davis where he would be working as a farmhand and live in a trailer with hunting rights.
Prosecutors say "Jack" was Beasley, Rafferty's co-defendant and mentor. Beasley, 53, of Akron, has pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.
According to Davis, "Jack" urged him into a wooded area to look for farm equipment and eventually suggested they turn back.
"I heard a curse word and then a gun cock," Davis, 49, testified.
Davis said he turned around and found himself face-to-face with a handgun. He said he pushed the weapon aside, was wounded in the arm and fled as "Jack" fired at him.
Davis said he ran as fast as he could "but I kept falling down." He said he eventually hid in a creek bed and tried to stop the bleeding amid rising pain. Fearing loss of blood would kill him, Davis said he climbed to a hilltop in the moonlit night to look for a house. He found one and managed to get there and ask for a phone to dial 911.
"I was getting weak at that point," Davis testified.
Under questioning by prosecutor Emily Pelphrey, Davis identified the younger accomplice by describing the defendant's courtroom outfit.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney John Alexander, Davis testified that "Jack" had orchestrated the farm visit and fired at him.
Alexander posed repeated questions fingering Beasley as the mastermind, each time beginning, "'Jack' was the one ... "
In her opening statement, Pelphrey said Rafferty chose to participate in the three killings and Davis' wounding, even if he wasn't the triggerman. Rafferty, of nearby Stow, kept his head down and took notes as the alleged plot was detailed for the jury.
Pelphrey showed the jury timelines for each victim and said they had been desperate to improve their lives or find "the light at the end of the tunnel." With each victim, a photo of their graves was shown on a big TV screen.
The defendant was a quick student of the alleged plot and "a student of violent crime," Pelphrey told jurors.
"He made the choices he wanted to make," she said.
Alexander told jurors Rafferty never participated voluntarily and was afraid that Beasley would kill him and his relatives if he didn't cooperate and keep silent. As for the alleged plot to lure job-seekers, Alexander said, Rafferty "had no idea any of this was going on."
The first killing came without warning for Rafferty, according to Alexander. Afterward, Beasley warned Rafferty to keep quiet by reminding him that he knew where Rafferty's mother and sister lived, the defense lawyer said.
That was an implied threat to cooperate and keep quiet, Alexander said. "He would kill them if Brogan says anything," Alexander told jurors.
The body of David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va., was found on Noble County property owned by a coal company and often leased to hunters.
Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, was found in a shallow grave near an Akron-area shopping mall. He had been shot in the head.
The body of Ralph Geiger, 55, of Akron, was found in Noble County, dead of a gunshot wound to the head.
Beasley was a Texas parolee who returned to Ohio in 2004 after serving time on a burglary conviction. He was awaiting trial on prostitution and drug charges when authorities took him into custody.
Police have said a halfway house he ran in Akron was a front for prostitution. Authorities said he was a mentor for Rafferty and had befriended him.