COLUMBUS — The death sentence of a man who was convicted in the killing of five women and the abduction and rape of a sixth over a 10-year period was upheld Thursday by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Shawn Grate is on death row for the killings of two of the women in Ashland County in north-central Ohio. Grate, 44, is also serving three life sentences for killing the other three women.
The court’s unanimous ruling upheld the sentences in the deaths of Stacey Stanley, 43, and Elizabeth Griffith, 29, whose bodies were found during a 2016 search of a vacant house in Ashland where Grate had been living.
The court rejected arguments that Grate’s attorneys were ineffective during his trial and found the nature of the crimes outweighed any evidence presented on Grate’s behalf.
“These are horrific crimes that lack any mitigating features,” wrote Justice Judi French.
While upholding Grate’s convictions and death sentences, Justice Michael Donnelly said he was concerned about the lack of evidence that Grate’s attorneys presented during the sentencing phase of the trial in an attempt to spare Grate.
The lawyers left the jury “with an incomplete view of Grate’s mental health,” Donnelly said.
That opinion demonstrates that Grate “really didn’t know the wrongfulness of what he was doing,” Donald Gallick, one of Grate’s appeals’ attorneys, said Thursday.
“It really appears that Shawn Grate does not realize … that murdering women is against the law,” Gallick said.
However, French noted in her opinion that there’s no “evidence that at the time of the offenses, Grate was suffering from a severe mental disease or defect that prevented him from knowing the wrongfulness of his acts.”
Grate faces years of federal appeals before he might be executed. And earlier this week, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine cast doubt on the future of capital punishment in the state by saying lethal injection was no longer an option and lawmakers would need to choose a new method before executions could continue.
The state’s last execution was July 18, 2018, when Ohio put to death Robert Van Hook for killing David Self in Cincinnati in 1985.
For the non-death penalty cases, Grate is serving life in prison terms for killing a woman in Marion County in 2006, another woman in Ashland County in 2015 and another woman in Richland County in 2016. He was also convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman whose escape from the Ashland County house in 2016 led to Grate’s arrest.
Also this week, the state moved closer to banning the execution of the severely mentally ill. The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would spare killers diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or delusional disorder at the time of their crimes.
The bill now heads back to the House for consideration of changes made since that chamber approved a version of the bill last year.