State v. Grate, No. 2018-0968

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtFRENCH, J.
Citation2020 OHIO 5584
Docket NumberNo. 2018-0968
Decision Date10 December 2020

2020 OHIO 5584


No. 2018-0968


January Term, 2020
Submitted July 7, 2020
December 10, 2020


This slip opinion is subject to formal revision before it is published in an advance sheet of the Ohio Official Reports. Readers are requested to promptly notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of Ohio, 65 South Front Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, of any typographical or other formal errors in the opinion, in order that corrections may be made before the opinion is published.

[Until this opinion appears in the Ohio Official Reports advance sheets, it may be cited as State v. Grate, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-5584.]

Criminal law—Aggravated murder—Findings of guilt and death sentence affirmed.

APPEAL from the Court of Common Pleas of Ashland County, No. 16-CRI-187.



{¶ 1} This is an appeal of right from two aggravated-murder convictions and death sentences. An Ashland County jury found appellant, Shawn Grate, guilty of the aggravated murder of E.G. and S.S. In total, Grate was convicted of 23 counts, including some related to a third victim, L.S., who survived. Both aggravated-murder counts included death-penalty specifications for a course of conduct involving multiple murders. The count charging Grate with E.G.'s murder also included an aggravated-murder-during-a-kidnapping death-penalty

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specification. The count charging Grate with S.S.'s murder also included a death-penalty specification for aggravated murder during a kidnapping, rape or aggravated robbery. The jury recommended sentences of death, and the trial court sentenced Grate accordingly.

A. Grate Moves to Ashland County

{¶ 2} Grate moved from Richland County to Ashland County in June 2016. He constructed a makeshift fort in a secluded area in some woods near Mifflin, a village within Ashland County.

{¶ 3} Around June 2016, Grate broke into two campers in nearby Charles Mill Park. He stole a television, DVD player, chain saw, blankets, and food from one of the campers. He then took some of this property to the other camper and stayed there while the owners were gone.

{¶ 4} In mid-July, Grate broke into the Mifflin Flea Market and stole food, money, Tasers, and other property.

{¶ 5} Around July 22, Grate broke into a vacant house at 363 Covert Court in Ashland. The house had electricity but no water. During a police interview with Grate after he had been arrested, Grate stated that "[t]he tv was there" and that he "went and bought a VCR * * * and a DVD player, kind of made [it] a home." Grate worked for a short time at Save-a-Lot.

{¶ 6} During July and August 2016, Grate regularly had meals at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Ashland. He met L.S. there. L.S. introduced Grate to E.G. L.S. and E.G. lived in neighboring apartment buildings.

B. E.G.'s Disappearance

{¶ 7} E.G. did not have a job; she lived alone and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia with mania. Cindy Lynn Swanger, a peer-to-peer counselor, spoke to E.G. several times a week. Swanger said that prior to August 16, E.G. was "pretty excited about something," and Swanger thought that E.G. had met someone.

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E.G. called Swanger on August 16 and seemed anxious to talk, but they did not have an opportunity to speak in person.

{¶ 8} On August 16, E.G. went shopping in Ashland, and she was last observed walking along Main Street during the afternoon. Approximately two weeks after E.G.'s disappearance, she was reported missing.

C. S.S.'s Disappearance

{¶ 9} On September 8, 2016, S.S. drove from her home in Greenwich, a village located in Huron County, to Ashland to shop. Around 8:30 p.m., S.S. stopped at a BP station in Ashland because of a flat tire. She called her son, who arranged for Wayne Bright, S.S.'s acquaintance, to change the tire.

{¶ 10} Grate and S.S. happened to meet at the BP station. Bright met them when he arrived. Around 10:00 p.m., Bright and Grate finished changing the tire, then Bright departed. S.S.'s son talked to her after the tire was changed, and S.S. told him that she was getting coffee and then would be going home. Nathaniel Keck, a BP employee, saw Grate and S.S. go to the register together where she bought Grate a cup of coffee. Keck said S.S. was "just chipper, in a good mood." Keck watched them leave the store together.

{¶ 11} When S.S. failed to return home, her family began searching for her. On September 11, family members were informed that her car had been found in a residential area in Ashland. S.S.'s cell phone was on the floorboard and her driver's license, which she normally kept in her wallet, was between the seats. And even though S.S. was short, the driver's seat was pushed all the way back.

{¶ 12} S.S.'s car was found parked in front of Joanna Smith's home. Smith remembered seeing it parked there in the evening sometime around September 11. She saw a man exit the vehicle and walk down the street. At trial, Smith identified Grate as the man she had seen.

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D. L.S.'s Abduction and Rape

{¶ 13} During the summer of 2016, Grate and L.S. took long walks around Ashland a couple times a week, talking about the Bible and life. Grate wanted a romantic relationship with L.S., but she told him she was not interested in being more than friends.

{¶ 14} On September 11, after taking a walk, Grate told L.S. he had a bag of clothes to give her. L.S. also wanted to show him specific Bible passages. They went to the house on Covert Court where Grate was staying, and he showed her the clothes. L.S. sat on the bed and started showing him Bible passages. Grate then pulled the Bible out of her hands and said, "[Y]ou are not going anywhere."

{¶ 15} L.S. tried to push Grate away, but he punched her in the head and face and started choking her. L.S. stopped struggling and went motionless. Grate let go of her neck and started removing her clothes.

{¶ 16} L.S. stated that she was sexually assaulted "[e]very way imaginable." Grate tied her up at least three times "in weird positions, sometimes together, sometimes to the bed." He put pills in her mouth and told her they were muscle relaxers. He forcibly committed anal, oral, and vaginal rape on her. Grate videotaped the rapes on a cell phone.

{¶ 17} On L.S.'s second night of captivity, Grate slept next to her in the first-floor bedroom after tying her hands and legs together. Around 6:00 a.m. on September 13, L.S. woke up and Grate was asleep. She loosened her bindings and scooted off the bed. She then called 9-1-1 for help. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived, entered the house, and arrested Grate.

E. Police Search the House

{¶ 18} Following Grate's arrest, the police searched the house. Items of clothing had been attached to a mattress and a chair in the first-floor bedroom, seemingly to serve as bindings. Three devices that police suspected Grate had used

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for sexual purposes were found. The police also found S.S.'s Ohio Direction card, debit card, and car keys in the bedroom.

{¶ 19} E.G.'s naked and bound body was found under clothing and bedding in the second-floor closet. A bed in the second-floor bedroom had items of clothing attached to the bed frame that were suspected to have been used as bindings.

{¶ 20} S.S.'s partially nude body was found under a pile of trash in the basement. A ligature or binding was around her neck. Another suspected sexual device was also found in the basement.

F. Grate Makes Multiple Confessions

{¶ 21} Between September 13 and October 17, 2016, Grate provided multiple confessions to the police about the murders, rapes, and kidnappings.

1. E.G.

{¶ 22} E.G. was last seen on August 16, 2016. According to Grate, he visited L.S.'s apartment, but she did not answer the door. On his way out of the apartment complex, E.G. saw Grate and invited him to her apartment. Grate and E.G. talked and played a game of Yahtzee. Afterwards, they went to the house on Covert Court, ate barbecued chicken, and E.G. returned to her apartment. Around 11:00 p.m., E.G. called Grate and asked if he wanted to play Yahtzee and talk some more. Grate agreed. They met at the YMCA and walked to the Covert Court house.

{¶ 23} Grate said that they talked when they got to his house. E.G. mentioned that she wanted to look around the house. They went to an upstairs bedroom, where Grate strangled her. He denied having sex with her. Grate removed all of E.G.'s clothing after killing her, and "hogtied" her "just in case * * * she did wake up." Grate put her body in an upstairs closet and covered the body and the outside of the closet doorway with stuffed animals and clothing. He sealed the door frame with duct tape.

{¶ 24} Grate provided varying accounts about the circumstances surrounding the murder. During one interview, Grate stated that E.G. had "talked

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about killing herself." Grate wanted to see how much E.G. really wanted to die and started strangling her. He said that "she got all serious, when [he] went to calm her down, she just lost it, and [he] panicked." Grate also stated that when he and E.G. were upstairs, E.G. took her shirt off and "she just kind of like, you know, [tried] to put moves on [him]." Grate later stated that E.G.'s shirt and bra accidentally came off while he was strangling her.

{¶ 25} During another interview, Grate said, "With [E.G.] * * * it should have never happened." He stated that while he was strangling her, E.G. said, "[F]orgive him Lord for he don't know what he does." Grate said, "[Y]ou do want to live and * * * tried to hug her." Grate said that E.G. responded, "[G]et off me, * * * you tried to hurt me." According to Grate, "she just kept going on and on and it's like Jesus, save me and it's like you're not saved." He added, "My compassion wanted to just free her from this world [and] * * * unfortunately I know she's going to go through many, many years of torment." Grate said that because "it was like way too late," he finished strangling her.

{¶ 26} In a...

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