Gary L. Beeman

Gary Beeman in 2002. (Photo: Mary Hanlon)

Gary Beeman in 2002. (Photo: Mary Hanlon)

A prison escapee killed a man and sent Gary Beeman to death row for the crime

Fifty-two-year-old Robert Perrin was found murdered in his home in Geneva, Ohio, on November 16, 1975. Gary L. Beeman, 22, was arrested two months later after he was implicated in the crime by a prison escapee named Clair Liuzzo. Beeman and Luizzo, 24, had been fellow prisoners at Ohio’s Mansfield Reformatory. Liuzzo had been in prison for a narcotics offense but escaped a month before the Perrin murder. Beeman had been paroled the previous June after serving three years for an armed robbery.

A few days after the murder, Luizzo surrendered on the escape charge. Returned to the Mansfield Reformatory, he contacted the authorities, saying he had information about the Perrin crime. In police interviews in January 1976, he accused Beeman of committing the murder during an armed robbery. He became the star witness for the prosecution at Beeman’s jury trial six months later in the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas.

Although Liuzzo never would be prosecuted for the escape, prosecutors denied that he had been promised anything in exchange for his testimony. Aside from Liuzzo’s testimony, the only other evidence against Beeman was circumstantial: Two weeks before the crime, he had bought two .22-caliber pistols at a sporting goods store. Perrin had been killed with a small-caliber weapon, which was not recovered. After the crime, two rings owned by Perrin had been pawned by a man the pawn shop owner identified as Beeman.

In his defense, Beeman took the stand and accused Liuzzo of committing the murder. According to Beeman, Liuzzo contacted him shortly after escaping from prison and, in the hope of obtaining money, they plotted to obtain money from Perrin, who was gay. The night of November 15, 1975, Beeman went with Perrin to his home in Geneva but left when Perrin refused to give him money. Beeman then joined Liuzzo, who became enraged when he learned that Beeman had gotten nothing from Perrin. According to this scenario, Liuzzo then went to Perrin’s house alone and — without Beeman’s knowledge of his intent — committed the murder.

Beeman’s lawyer, Thomas Shaughnessy, attempted to call Robert Westfall, who would have testified that Liuzzo had admitted committing the crime alone. According to Westfall, Liuzzo said he was blaming the crime on Beeman in the hope of obtaining leniency in his escape case. However, Judge Roland Poitius would not allow the jury to hear Westfall’s testimony and would not allow Shaughnessy to cross examine Liuzzo about whether he had ever told anyone that he committed the crime. The jury found Beeman guilty, and on July 27, 1976, Poitius sentenced him to death in the electric chair.

In 1978, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that Poitius had unfairly restricted the cross examination of Liuzzo. With a standby attorney appointed to assist him, Beeman represented himself at his retrial in September 1979 before Judge Robert L. Ford and a jury. The prosecution case essentially was a replay of the first time around, but the defense case was substantially stronger. Five former Ashtabula County Jail prisoners testified that they had heard Liuzzo say that he — not Beeman — had committed the murder. On October 4, 1979, the jury found Beeman not guilty, officially exonerating him of the crime for which he had spent over 3 years behind bars.

— Michael Radelet