AP Enterprise: Rules ignored in Craigslist case
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Legal Affairs Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Texas parolee now suspected in a deadly Craigslist robbery scheme was mistakenly released from Ohio custody last summer not once but twice.
Richard Beasley, 52, should never have been released from the county jail in Akron, where he was being held on drug charges this summer, said Texas officials and the head of a national commission that oversees prisoner-transfer rules.
The brother of a victim whose body was found last month called Beasley's release tragic. Ohio is now investigating what went wrong, an inquiry that state officials called unprecedented.
Authorities say they are planning to charge Beasley with killing three men and wounding a fourth between August and November.
Yet Beasley left jail on bond July 13, was rearrested July 14 after a traffic stop, then let go again despite the existence of Texas warrants asking he be kept in custody, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press.
"He shouldn't have been released either time," said Harry Hageman, executive director of the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, which oversees rules that have the force of federal law.
"Because there was a warrant from Texas, there's no bond, regardless of the arrest or defense," he said.
The regulation for bail that governs inmates wanted by another state is clear, according to commission rules: "An offender against whom retaking procedures have been instituted by a sending or receiving state shall not be admitted to bail or other release conditions in any state."
Ohio has begun an investigation into Beasley's release, the first such review that the head of Ohio's interstate parole council can recall.
"It seems to be a case that warrants the attention of the Ohio council," Sarah Andrews, chairman of the Ohio Council for Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, told the AP.
Less than a month after Beasley was released from Summit County Jail for the second time, on July 15, a previously homeless Akron man was shot in the head in in rural southeastern Ohio.
Authorities discovered the body of Ralph Geiger more than three months later, on Nov. 25, as they investigated the deaths of two men and the wounding of a third who answered a phony Craigslist ad for work on a cattle farm.
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His brother, Mark Geiger, has said police told him they suspect the death was related to the Craigslist scheme.
"Ralph may have been the first victim, but he wasn't the only victim," said Geiger, 59, a telecommunications executive in Atlanta. "It's truly tragic that that was allowed to happen."
Beasley returned to Ohio in 2004, still on parole after serving several years for a Texas burglary conviction, records show.
After he was arrested Feb. 8 in Akron on drug charges, Texas issued a warrant for his arrest alleging a parole violation. That alone should have been enough to keep Beasley behind bars until being sent to Texas, no matter his standing in Ohio, according to Hageman.
The warrant was confirmed on June 24 when Beasley was arrested on a new drug charge, alleging he illegally sold prescription painkillers. Beasley signed a form that day agreeing to be extradited.
But the same day, Ohio gave Texas a deadline of July 10 to make a decision about Beasley, according to jail records obtained by the AP. Summit sheriff's spokesman Bill Holland says that deadline is a jail policy.
But such a policy violates the interstate compact, which all states agree to follow, Hageman said.
After Beasley's attorney asked that he be released, he was freed on $10,000 bond.
Judge James Murphy approved his release July 12 and Beasley got out the next day. Murphy's signed order said, "Texas authorities are only interested in extradition if there is a conviction in Ohio."
Nonetheless, Murphy's order violated the interstate commission rules, Hageman said. He noted that Murphy, who is retired and was sitting in for another judge, may not have been up on the compact rules.
Murphy said Thursday he had no recollection of the case and said the hearing was a routine matter.
Beasley's attorney on the drug charges, Rhonda Kotnik, did not return phone and email messages.
Texas reissued its warrant July 13 after learning of Beasley's release.
"We were willing, able, ready, and we made that known in the proper way" by issuing three separate warrants and detainers, said Kathie Winckler, commissioner and chair of the Texas State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.
On July 14, police in Springfield Township near Akron stopped Beasley for a traffic violation around 11 p.m., then took him into custody when they learned of the Texas warrant. The police report does not specify the type of traffic violation. It says officers recovered several prescription painkillers from Beasley.
Beasley was taken to Summit County Jail that night, the report says. A timeline created by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice indicates someone from Summit County confirmed the existence of the Texas warrant, but that Beasley was allowed to leave jail anyway early on July 15.
Summit County jail officials say Springfield couldn't find a copy of the warrant when it looked a second time. The Springfield police chief says his officers took Beasley to jail on the warrant but doesn't know what happened afterward.
Beasley apparently wasn't worried about being rearrested: He showed up at the police station later in the day on July 15 to pick up his car, which had been impounded, Springfield Police Chief John Smith said Thursday.
Summit Jail officials insist they did nothing wrong, saying they had no choice once Murphy issued his order.
"When we have a judge's order to grant someone's bond, I don't see how we can hold that person," said Holland, the sheriff's spokesman. "I'm not trying to point fingers at anybody, but that's what we do. If a judge grants an order, we follow the order."
The plot's second victim, David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va., came to Ohio in mid-October after answering the Craigslist ad. A friend has said Pauley was desperate for work and eager to return to Ohio.
Police say he was killed Oct. 23, and his body was found Nov. 15. Family members had contacted police concerned they hadn't heard from him.
The third victim, Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, whose body was buried near an Akron shopping mall, answered the ad and was last seen Nov. 13, authorities said. His body was also found Nov. 25. Kern told his family he was taking the job to help support his three sons.
A fourth victim who survived, Scott Davis of South Carolina, also answered the ad and was shot Nov. 6 before escaping, police say.