ASHLAND - Suspected serial killer Shawn Grate will have to wait until next year for his day in court.
Grate's trial was moved from Nov. 6 to April 9 on Monday. Ashland County Common Pleas Judge Ron Forsthoefel granted a defense motion to continue the trial to give two expert witnesses more time to prepare.
Prosecutor Chris Tunnell did not object to the motion from Robert and Rolf Whitney.
"To not grant it would create a review situation at some appellate level," he said, "and we'd be back here doing it all over again."
Grate, 41, is charged with 23 counts. Those include aggravated murder in connection with the deaths of two women. If convicted, he could get the death penalty.
The Whitneys referred specifically to mitigation specialist James Crates, who would be needed if Grate faces the death penalty.
Crates would offer reasons why Grate's life should be spared. He told the Whitneys he is working on four other death penalty cases scheduled for trial this fall.
Dr. John Fabian, a forensic and clinical psychologist, is the other expert who says he needs more time. He is evaluating Grate for the defense.
Forsthoefel offered two dates, March 5 and April 9. Tunnell said his only concern about April 9 was the spring break schedule and availability of potential jurors. Easter falls on April 1 next year.
The judge thanked the Whitneys for filing their motion when they did, noting he was getting ready to mail out summonses to the jury pool.
Forsthoefel scheduled a final pretrial for Feb. 26.
In a housekeeping measure, the judge said long-form questionnaires were due Monday, but he had not received anything from the defense.
"Hopefully, it will get done in the next week or 10 days," Robert Whitney said.
Forsthoefel set a new deadline of Sept. 11.
Grate has been in jail for nearly a year. The bodies of Stacey Stanley, 43, and Elizabeth Griffith, 29, were recovered Sept. 13 in an abandoned house at 363 Covert Court near downtown Ashland.
Both women were strangled, according to final autopsy reports.
Grate also faces kidnapping and rape charges connected to a third woman who called 911 from the house, saying she had been abducted.
In addition, Grate has been linked to the 2015 death of Rebekah Leicy, of Mansfield, whose body was found in Ashland County woods, and the death of an unidentified woman whose body was discovered in Marion County in 2007.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has not been able to identify the woman, whom officials believe was Grate’s first murder victim, despite efforts to identify her through DNA, multiple forensic sketches and most recently a clay model created by a forensic artist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“I don’t want to say we’re at a standstill, but this is not moving anywhere,” Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey said Monday.
The woman’s skeletal remains were found in 2007 at a dumping ground on Victory Road, just outside Marion. Her case remained a mystery until 2016, when Grate, who grew up in Marion, reportedly confessed to killing her, with his story lining up with several details of the case, Bailey has said.
Grate reportedly told investigators the woman, who may have been named Dana or Diane and was in her 20s, was selling magazine subscriptions in Marion County when he lured her into his car, drove her to his home and stabbed her to death around 2005.
In January, a facial reconstruction was released of the woman based on her skeletal remains.
Bailey said deputies have not had any promising leads in the last few months.
“We have tracked some women in Mexico, Canada, several states across the United States. All of them have been eliminated as being our found woman,” he said.
Their search has even led deputies to eastern Europe.
“We think – and I put an emphasis on ‘think’ – that she may be from eastern Europe,” Bailey said, pointing to interviews with people who think they may have had contact with the woman and who said she had an accent, possibly from eastern Europe.
Grate reportedly told investigators that he took an Ohio identification card or driver’s license off the woman, but investigators have not been able to find it.
Grate also had been implicated in a Richland County death. The remains of Candice Cunningham were found last September near a burned-out Madison Township house and identified through DNA.
The Mansfield News Journal