“I’ve been kidnapped,” a terrified woman whispered to the dispatcher.
Police arrived to find a nightmare scenario within the four walls. As an Ashland County prosecutor recently told a jury, trash, dirty clothes and stuffed animals filled the rooms, in places piled to the ceiling. The smell of decay spiked the air, leading officers to a room upstairs sealed with duct tape. Inside, beneath a pile of clothes, police found the body of a strangled woman. In the basement, a second victim’s decomposing remains were discovered. The woman who had called for help told police she had been tied to a bed and sexually assaulted for days.
Police walked out of the house with Shawn Grate in handcuffs. A drifter who floated in the currents of rural Ohio, he would eventually boast to television reporters he had killed five women. In late April, the alleged serial killer went on trial for the murders of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Hicks, as well as the assault on the unnamed woman who escaped in September.
“This isn’t a whodunit case,” prosecutor Chris Tunnell told the jury in his opening statements, News 5 reported. “This is a he-done-it case.”
This week, the jury concurred. After deliberating for three hours, the jury found Grate guilty of eight counts, including the murder of two of the women and the sexual assault and kidnapping of the surviving woman, according to NBC News. In the middle of the trial, he had pleaded guilty as well to 15 lesser counts. The 41-year-old could face the death sentence later this month — a decision that could hinge on the convicted killer’s mental health.
Investigators are also looking into Grate’s claim that he killed three additional women, but he has not yet been charged in those deaths.
Grate targeted women who had either slipped through the social cracks or were vulnerable because of drug use. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Grate’s mother, Theresa McFarland, said her son’s charm was evident from his early years.
“He’s good looking but the Devil’s good looking too,” she said. “He ain’t no red horns and all that stuff. You find out he’s charming and of course that charm can charm the pants off anybody, not to be nasty, but you just know how it works.”
Indeed, Grate was able to attract unsuspecting women. Grate met Griffith at a shopping center. The two would “hang out and play games, mostly Yahtzee,” Grate would later tell a television producer, Cassie Nist of Cleveland 19.
“The short time I talked to her she cried several times just about life and how she couldn’t find anyone to love her,” the killer explained in the Cleveland 19 interview. “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.” After strangling Griffith, Grate took her key and went to her apartment, taking shampoo and paper towels, according to court testimony.
Stacey Hicks — who also went by the name Stacey Stanley — had been battling to stay off heroin for the six months before she disappeared on Sept. 8. Witnesses would later testify to seeing Hicks and Grate together at a gas station on the day she vanished.
Grate met his unnamed, surviving victim at a local Salvation Army Community Center, she testified. The two were friends, she told the court, until Sept. 11, when she stopped by Covert Court. The woman was reading from a Bible when Grate snatched away the book. “You’re not going anywhere,” he told her. She was tied to the bed, sexually assaulted in “every imaginable way,” while Grate filmed the assault.
On Sept. 13, while Grate slept, the victim wiggled out of her restraints and made her desperate phone call to 911.
The penalty phase of Grate’s trial — when jurors will decide whether the convicted killer will face the death penalty — is scheduled to begin May 18.
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