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Appeal rejected for man who killed drug dealer, burned his house down

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 17, 2014

In an opinion released recently, the 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed a trail court ruling in a case involving a man who stabbed his drug dealer to death and burned his house down in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Joshua Estes was indicted on multiple counts after he admitted involvement in a Preble County house fire in October 2011.

Authorities were dispatched to the fire around 6:40 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2011.

After extinguishing the flames, they discovered the body of Terence Grigg inside the ruble.

They determined Grigg, the home owner, had died as the result of multiple stab wounds.

The initial investigation revealed Estes knew Grigg and had been to the home several times on the day of the fire.

Three days after the body was discovered, Estes submitted to an interview with detectives and admitted to stabbing Grigg and setting fire to the house in an attempt to conceal the crime.

As part of a negotiated plea deal, Estes pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated arson, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse.

In exchange for the plea, the Preble County Court of Common Pleas sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Prior to sentencing, Estes did not raise any questions regarding the merger of his offenses but on direct appeal he contended that some of the charges were allied offenses of similar import.

“In his single assignment of error, Estes argues the trial court committed plain error by failing to merge his aggravated arson, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse convictions for purposes of sentencing,” Judge Stephen Powell wrote for the court.

The three-judge appellate panel found that it was possible to commit the offenses in question with the same conduct.

And when reviewing the Estes interview with police they determined that he only admitted to stabbing Grigg in the morning and returning that evening to burn the house and destroy evidence of the crime.

However, they found that the competency report included much more detail.

According to that report, Estes went to Grigg’s house after fighting with his girlfriend.

He said Grigg was “one of his drug dealers” and he agreed to stay at the house for awhile.

Eventually he went back to his girlfriend’s house to pick up some of his belongings.

The couple got into another argument and Estes admitted he “threw a fit” and broke some picture frames.

He then returned to Grigg’s home and “wound up drinking himself drunk and stupid” and falling asleep on the couch.

The following morning, Estes said he woke up to Grigg standing over him wearing only a robe.

He said he thought Grigg was “trying to make him his boyfriend because he was staying there,” the report stated.

When Estes stood up, he said Grigg put his arms around him and, in response, Estes grabbed a knife and stabbed him repeatedly until he made a “screeching” sound and fell to the floor.

Estes said he then went to the back porch to retrieve gasoline and poured it all over the area.

He claimed he changed his clothes and showered to get rid of the blood, which he was covered in.

After calling for a ride, Estes placed a lit propane torch on the ground and left.

The competency report explained that he believed the torch would burn the house down.

When he called an unnamed individual living nearby, however, he later learned that the house had not burned down.

He then returned to the house and successfully ignited a gasoline soaked blanket.

He stated at that point he left and bought a “bunch of heroin” because his “nerves were shot.”

Upon reviewing that information, the appellate judges found that Estes committed the offenses of tampering with evidence when he showered and changed his clothes.

Separately, he committed the offense of gross abuse of a corpse when he doused the body with gasoline and attempted to set it on fire shortly after the stabbing.

The final offense was also committed separately when Estes successfully set fire to the house.

“In turn, due to the vast time difference, Estes’ conduct used to establish this charge was wholly separate from that used to support his tampering with evidence or gross abuse of a corpse convictions,” Judge Powell wrote. “Therefore, although faced with a limited record on appeal, we nevertheless find Estes has failed to establish he committed each of these three offenses with the same conduct; that is, by a single act, performed with a single state of mind.”

Presiding Judge Robert Ringland and Judge Michael Powell concurred in affirming the lower court’s ruling.

The case is cited State v. Estes, 2014-Ohio-767.

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