Suspect in 2016 Crestview triple homicide changes plea to guilty on all charges

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — It's been more than five years since Jacob Langston was charged with killing his parents and the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend, and after many delays in the case, he has finally accepted guilt. 

The First Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office reached a plea agreement with Langston on Monday, when he went before Okaloosa County Circuit Judge Michael Flowers to enter a guilty plea to all five charges against him. 

Previous coverage:Jacob Langston, suspect in 2016 Crestview triple shooting, back in court Monday

Remembering the victims:Friends, co-workers remember triple homicide victims

Langston’s trial date previously had been postponed 20 times since he entered a not guilty plea to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of felony cruelty to animals on March 8, 2016. 

By changing his plea to guilty, the State Attorney’s Office agreed to no longer seek the death penalty in the case. Langston's sentence will be determined at a hearing in September. 

Jan. 23 of this year marked the fifth anniversary of the killings of Shanna McGrath, Kevin McGrath and Elbert Merrick III, all of whom were shot to death by Langston. Shanna McGrath was Langston’s mother and Kevin McGrath was his stepfather. 

The shooting spree began about 10:40 a.m. when Merrick, who dated Langston’s former fiancée, arrived at the McGraths' home at 179 Peoria Blvd. in Crestview to pick up some of the 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. 

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Jacob Langston appears in court Monday to change his plea in the 2016 killing of his mother, stepfather and the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend in Crestview. By pleading guilty, Langston will escape the death penalty. He will be sentenced at a hearing in September.

After the two loaded the woman’s belongings into Merrick’s Jeep Cherokee, they began to argue and shove one another, Langston told investigators, “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. 

Jacob Langston (center) appears in court Monday to change his plea to guilty in connection with the 2016 killing of his mother, stepfather and boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend in Crestview. By changing his plea, Langston will escape the death penalty.

Shanna 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 connection with the call. Langston originally told dispatchers that he had been shot and that a person was being held hostage at the home. 

After Shanna McGrath was fatally shot, a gunfight ensued between Langston and Kevin McGrath, reports said. Langston was shot twice in the shoulder.

More about Shanna McGrath:Former Hurlburt coworkers remember slain Crestview woman

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The two broke off their fight at one point and agreed to go back to the room where Shanna had been shot to check on her. There, Langston grabbed another gun from a nightstand and used it to kill his stepfather.

Langston admitted to committing all three of the homicides in an interview conducted at a hospital on the day of the killings, according to records. All three victims were shot in the head. 

He also shot the two family dogs when they approached him growling, he said. One was killed and another was severely injured. 

Okaloosa County Circuit Judge Michael Flowers explains to Jacob Langston the rights he was waiving when he appeared in court Monday to change his plea from not guilty to guilty in connection with the 2016 killing of his mother, stepfather and the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend in Crestview. By pleading guilty, Langston will escape the death penalty.

The first trial date set for Langston was to be March 28, 2016. It was continued following the State Attorney’s Office’s announcement that it would seek the death penalty. 

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

After the letters went out, both the State Public Defender’s Office and the Office of Regional Conflict announced conflicts with other clients had been created by Langston's letters. Each agency was granted permission to withdraw from his defense. 

Photos:Langston makes his first appearance in court

Waiting for the trial:Langston murder trial delays worry victim’s mother

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

One defense attorney’s health issues also caused delays in getting the Langston case to trial. 

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