Shawn Grate wants everyone to know that he has killed five women.
But it sounds like he is not quite sure there weren’t more.
So a Cleveland television reporter interviewing him, asks him, point blank, “Have you killed anyone else?”
“Let me see,” he replies, looking at a list she presses against the glass of the visitor’s room at the Ashland County jail.
“No. There were just five. Yeah, there were five.”
But as far as he is concerned, they “were already dead.”
That’s what he said in a letter to another reporter, apologizing, not for the murders but his sloppy handwriting, which he blames on having only a golf pencil to write with, in accordance with jail rules.
“They were already dead. Just their bodies were flopping wherever it can flop but their minds were already dead! The state took their minds. Once they started receiving their monthly checks.”
Shawn Grate, as is apparent, is not a normal person.
Though formally accused of two murders — for the moment, of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley — he has confessed to five slayings. He is not a normal defendant, either. He has confessed but has pleaded not guilty and he has suggested he did so at the insistence of his lawyers.
And rather than keeping quiet, as lawyers insist that defendants do, he has been confessing to all who ask.
“I admitted it,” he told the interviewer for WOIO Cleveland 19 news, Cassie Nist, the TV station’s senior producer of investigations.
His problem, he told her, “is that everyone is telling me what to do.”
He was “just trying to free myself of what I’ve done. I’m afraid of the death penalty. … I’d like to die on my own and not by the state. My attorneys keep telling me not to talk to anyone. I don’t need you. I’m guilty.”
He has confessed and talked so much that on Thursday, at the request of both the prosecutor and his defense lawyers, Ashland Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Forsthoefel ordered him to shut up, imposing a gag order that will make his jailers screen all his mail and other communications, prohibiting “defendant from communicating, in any fashion, with any member of the public regarding the pending case,” as WKYC reported.
He started confessing the day police caught up with him.
They got him by sheer luck. He picked up a woman who had been out walking, took her to an abandoned house in a desolate neighborhood of Ashland, and tied her up, forcing her to engage in sexual activity, she told police.
She managed to loosen the ties that bound her, and she slipped over to a telephone in the bedroom and, while Grate slept, called 911.
“I’ve been kidnapped,” she told the responder.
Police hadn’t even known about the slayings until they got to the house and found two bodies. Then he started confessing to more killings, telling police where they could find the bodies, which they did.
All told, as his list said, there were five since at least 2001 — or, maybe 2003, he’s not sure — one of whom has yet to be identified.
In his interview with KFVS, he ticked off each one, and had something to say about them all. Nist was not allowed to bring a recorder to the interview, but recounted his words from her memory in Q&A form, stressing that her account was not entirely verbatim.
There was Dana, or Diane. Grate is not exactly sure of her name. Neither are authorities. They have a body, but no identity.
She was trying to sell him magazines, he told Nist. “I remember her trying to sell them to me. Me and my mom would be on the porch and she’d try to sell them. My mom said she wasn’t getting her subscriptions delivered.”
He said the woman came to the house and “tried to tell me that she would pay for half the subscription and if I paid the other half. I could tell she was scheming me,” he said.
“I took her in the basement and took a knife and stabbed her in the throat. I had company coming over soon.”
Stabbing was not his usual method, he said.
He preferred choking, which is what he said he did to Elizabeth Griffith.
He met her at a shopping center. “We would hang out and play games, mostly Yahtzee.” They were friends, he said, and “I’m trying to justify it as compassion. The short time I talked to her she cried several times just about life and how she couldn’t find anyone to love her …
“All I wanted to do was show [her] that she wanted to live, and I’d say give me a hug we’re all in this together. I’d choke her until she said she wanted to live … and she just didn’t.”
He adds: “I’m trying to justify it as compassion.”
On and on he talks.
Stacey Stanley in September, Candice Cunningham in June and Rebekah Leicy in March 2015.
“I knew Rebekah. One day we were out playing pool at a bar and I went to use the restroom and heard my money clip zip. She’d stolen $4 from me.”
The interviewer asked if he’s remorseful.
“It’s about 50/50,” he said.
Yet, “I’d like to ask those who know me to forgive me and the victims’ families … the loved ones that are missing the victims.”
Grate, in his letter and his interview, offers no elaborate background story to explain his behavior, no descriptions of abusive parents or a drug-addled brain, though he complains of doctors trying to get him to take “psych pills.”
“They tried to put me on psych pills but I didn’t want anything controlling my brain.
He was briefly married and fathered a daughter. But his wife filed for divorce in 2012, less than a year after they wed.
In April 2013, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, she obtained a restraining order after he made threats, saying, “If I can’t see my daughter, then no one else will.”
He became a drifter — sometimes homeless, sometimes moving from place to place in Mansfield, Ohio, getting in trouble — and was jailed at least once, for not paying child support
A woman who knew him, and used him as a handyman, told the Enquirer that though he had an unhappy childhood, he seemed respectful. He also seemed, at times, very strange.
“He would stand and stare at you,” said the woman, who did not want her full name used. “… One time my cousin came over to the house,” she recalled, “and I had to tell him three times to go about his business before he would stop standing there,” staring.
His motive, as described in his letter to News 5 Cleveland, was incoherent, as he described it: He blamed “government assistance” for stealing the minds of his victims.
“The reasons he’s giving are not reasons that a rational person would give for explaining this kind of conduct,” Jonathan Witmer-Rich, a law professor at Cleveland Marshall School of Law, told the station.
Nor are his answers likely to be useful should he try to avoid the death penalty by claiming insanity.
Among the admissions he made was that he was fully aware he had done “horrible” things. He makes no pretense of not knowing right from wrong.
At the end of her interview, Nist asked Grate if there was anything else he wanted to say.
“My bunkmate is crazy.”
Correction: Cassie Nist works for WOIO CBS Cleveland 19 News, not as the original version of this story said, KFYS. And she showed Grate the list of victims, not the other way around, as originally reported.