Jacob Langston gets three consecutive life sentences for 2016 triple homicide

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — Jacob Langston will serve three consecutive life sentences, each without the possibility of parole, for the Jan. 23, 2016, killings of his mother, stepfather and the boyfriend of a former fiancée.

Okaloosa County Circuit Judge Michael Flowers pronounced the sentence without addressing the defendant Wednesday after hearing testimony from members of the victims' families, including the mother of Shanna McGrath, who told the court Langston was her only grandson and not an inherently evil person.

"I can only surmise that Satan got ahold of him that day," the woman told the judge.

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Langston had pleaded guilty to the murders of Shanna McGrath, Kevin McGrath and Elbert Merrick in June after five years of delays in bringing his case to trial. He had been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of felony animal cruelty. He shot and killed one family dog and shot and wounded another on the day of the deadly shooting spree.  

Flowers added two five-year sentences to Langston's sentence on the felony cruelty to animals charges. He also ordered that those should be served consecutively to the murder counts. 

Langston stood following the speakers and asked for forgiveness he said he knew would not be forthcoming.

"There is nothing I can do to take away your pain, and there's nothing I can do about that," he said. "These people, my mother, my stepfather and Elbert, a man I did not know, did not deserve to die. ... I'm sorry. I know those words are not enough, but that's all I can do and say right now." 

The bloody shooting spree began about 10:40 a.m. when Merrick, who had dated Langston’s former fiancée, arrived at the McGraths’ home at 179 Peoria Blvd. in Crestview 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 to argue and shove one another, Langston told investigators, “and he pointed the gun at Elbert, telling him to leave.”

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

Jacob Langston (center) appears at a preliminary hearing after he was charged with three murders in Crestview in 2016. He was sentenced Wednesday to three life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

After Shanna McGrath was fatally shot, a gunfight ensued between Langston and Kevin McGrath. 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 on her. Langston grabbed another gun from a nightstand and used it to kill his stepfather.

He said he shot the two family dogs when they approached him growling.

Langston, who suffered gunshot wounds in the shootout with Kevin McGrath, admitted to committing all three of the homicides in an interview conducted at a hospital on the day of the killings.

Langston's trial date had been postponed 20 times since he entered a not guilty plea for the first time on March 8, 2016. The First Judicial Circuit's State Attorney's Office initially announced its intention to seek the death penalty, and a first trial date of March 28, 2016, was delayed following the announcement.  

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The case was further delayed when Langston wrote letters to the State Attorney’s Office and to Flowers 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. 

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.