Triple homicide suspect remains untried four years after Crestview murders

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

Jan. 23 marks the fourth anniversary of the killings of Shanna McGrath, Kevin McGrath and Elbert Merrick III, all of whom, police say, died at the hands of Jacob Langston.

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Langston, who was 22 on the day his mother, stepfather and Merrick were fatally shot, is facing the death penalty if convicted, but his case has now been continued 18 times.

The latest continuance was signed by Circuit Court Judge Michael Flowers Dec. 13. A new trial date of July 6 was set at that time. Bill Bishop, the chief assistant state attorney for Okaloosa County, said the July date “has been set in stone.”

“The prosecution is prepared and ready to go,” Bishop said. “It will proceed to trial on that date.”

The trial is expected to take between two and three weeks, Bishop said.

Langston was charged with three counts of first degree murder and two felony cruelty to animal charges following his arrest on Jan. 23, 2016.

The bloody shooting spree for which Langston has been charged, began about 10:40 a.m. when Merrick, who had dated Langston’s former fiancé, arrived at the McGraths’ 179 Peoria Blvd., Crestview home to pick up some of the young woman’s belongings.

Langston initially told investigators that he had armed himself before Merrick’s arrival “in case Elbert had someone with him to start trouble,” according to his arrest report.

After the two loaded the woman’s belongings into Merrick’s Jeep Cherokee they began arguing and shoving one another, Langston said, “and he pointed the gun at Elbert, telling him to leave.”

Langston told investigators Merrick had climbed into his Jeep to leave but he had prevented him from closing the vehicle’s door.

“He stated that Elbert pushed him back and he pulled the trigger on the handgun,” reports said.

Shanna McGrath and Kevin McGrath went outside after hearing gunshots and saw Merrick’s body, which had rolled into the street, reports said. Shanna McGrath went inside to call 911. Dispatchers said they heard five gunshots after connecting with the call from 179 Peoria.

A gunfight ensued between Langston and Kevin McGrath following Shanna McGrath’s shooting, the report said. Langston was shot twice.

The two broke off their battle at one point and agreed to go back to the room where Shanna had been shot, to check her condition. There, Langston grabbed another gun and killed his stepfather.

He also shot two of his family’s dogs, killing one and severely injuring the second.

Langston has admitted to all of the killings, according to records.

The first trial date set for Langston was April 11, 2016, but was continued following the State Attorney Office’s March announcement that it would seek the death penalty.

In announcing the decision, it said the killings had been committed in a “cold calculated, premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”

PHOTOS: Jacob Langston triple homicide

The case was further delayed in 2016 when Langston wrote letters to the State Attorney’s Office and Flowers claiming to have information to share about several fellow inmates.

PHOTOS: Site of triple murder in Crestview

After the letters went out both, the State Public Defender’s Office and the Office of Regional Conflict, citing conflicts created by the Langston letters, were granted permission to withdraw from the murder case.

RELATED (2016): Crestview stunned by triple homicide (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Four more defense attorneys have since left the case, with each citing conflicts due to Langston’s efforts to turn in his fellow inmates.

Bishop said a defense attorney’s health issues had also caused delays in getting Langston to trial. Those issues have “resolved themselves” and the defense team is prepared to move to trial, he said.

The State Attorney’s Office ran into an issue of its own in May of 2018 when Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason, who had originally been assigned to prosecute Langston, was appointed an Okaloosa County judge. The state turned over its case to Bridgette Jensen, another experienced assistant state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit.

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