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Closing arguments in murder trial set for Monday

Zoe Greszler • May 3, 2018 at 11:00 PM

ASHLAND — After a surprising move in which accused serial killer Shawn Grate pleaded guilty to 15 of 23 charges in his capital murder trial, the Ashland man is awaiting the jury’s Monday deliberation.

If found guilty of the murder charges, Grate could face the death penalty.

According to reports, on Day 8 of the trial, Grate pleaded guilty to all four rape charges as well as gross abuse of a corpse (two counts), burglary (four), tampering with evidence, unauthorized use of a vehicle, one of four kidnapping counts, robbery and breaking and entering.

Grate also admitted he is a sexually violent predator and that he committed the kidnapping offense with a sexual motivation. His defense attorneys said he made the pleas freely and without any negotiation or plea deal between the prosecution and defense, the Ashland Source reported.

The pleas came the morning after more details were revealed in court of Greenwich woman Stacey Stanley’s rape and murder.

As part of that plea, Grate admitted to kidnapping, robbing and raping Stanley and that it was Stanley’s car involved in the unauthorized use of a vehicle charge, which prosectors said Grate moved after killing her. 

He still faces four aggravated murder charges, three counts of kidnapping and one aggravated robbery. Prosecutors didn’t dismiss these felonies because there was no plea deal and Grate acted on his own.

Ashland County Common Pleas Judge Ron Forsthoefel said he will schedule sentencing after the jury returns a verdict on the remaining charges, according to the Ashland Source.

At that time, Forsthoefel said he could sentence Grate to 72 years to life in prison, with 50 of those years being mandatory. He could also impose fines of $170,000, plus possible sanctions. Grate also will have to register as a sex offender.

Prior to his plea Tuesday, the court heard that Stanley’s body was identified by family based on a tattoo on her arm, as well as by fingerprinting. However, Elizabeth Griffith’s body, which was found in a closet where Grate was staying was “so badly decomposed, they depended on dental records for identification,” according to reports from Channel 19 News.

Deputy medial examiner Dr. Todd Barr told the court he believed it possible the scarf wrapped around Stanley’s neck could have been the murder weapon by which she died. He said this evidence led him to believe strangulation may have been the cause of her death. However, the news station reported Barr also said it could have been from “manual strangulation.”

Barr said his examination of Stanley's body didn’t show signs of sexual trauma, but added this is not necessarily odd, “considering the level of decomposition,” Channel 19 reported. 

In the abandoned house where Grate was staying, several “suspected sexual devices” were found, including one that was found in the pile of trash on Stanley’s body. Jurors were told these devices were made of a variety of materials, including pipes, cloths, candles, sticks and tennis balls.

The next morning, before jurors entered the room, Grate entered his guilty pleas. The jurors were told later they shouldn’t allow the pleas to impact their deliberations on the remaining charges.

Only a few hours of court ensued, when prosecutors presented videos from Grates cell phones, which the news station said depicted the assaults on the women.

By 12:35 p.m. Wednesday, both prosecutors and Grate’s defense attorney said they rested their cases, meaning the trial is coming to a close. 

Court is set to convene Monday morning for closing arguments from both sides, followed by the jury’s deliberation and ultimately the presentation of its verdict. The jurors were told they will be sequestered if deliberations last longer than a day.

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