The jury pool for the trial of accused serial killer Shawn Grate was reduced by about 20 after the first round of jury selection concluded shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday.

Forty-five prospective jurors out of 358 were brought into Ashland County Common Pleas Court for the hearing which started just about 9 a.m.

It is the first step in seating a jury for Grate’s trial who has been charged with 23 felony counts, including four counts of aggravated murder. If convicted of aggravated murder, Grate could face the death penalty.

Grate was brought into the courthouse around 8:30 a.m. with Ashland County Sheriff’s deputies surrounding him. All entrances of the courthouse were closed aside from the main entrance, with a metal detector placed at that entrance. Jurors were lined up to enter the courtroom and escorted five at a time in the order of their numbers.

Grate, dressed in a white shirt, purple tie and blue pants was escorted into the courtroom after the 45 prospective jurors were seated.

Judge Ronald P. Forsthoefel, Ashland County Common Pleas, began the hearing reading the 23-count indictment in the case, taking about 18 minutes to get through the document. He reminded the prospective jurors that Grate is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some jurors told they court they would have difficulty setting aside what they have heard outside the courtroom.

“I already have an idea already set in my mind,” one said.

“I have read extensively about the case, some of the comments from Grate to the media would make it difficult,” another said, referring to a television interview Grate granted, and a letter Grate wrote.

Several jurors were released for health and work reasons.

Ashland County Prosecutor Christopher Tunnell told the prospective jurors that, when responding to his, the court’s and the defense counsel’s questions, “All answers are right as long as they are honest and true.”

During one question, Tunnell said the case, which involves the alleged kidnapping and murder of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley, that the case will involve “seriously adult evidence,” that is “beyond the experience of most folks,” including those in law enforcement.

Tunnell was joined at the prosecution table by special assistant prosecutor Mark Weaver and Michael McNamarra III.

Attorney Bob Whitney, who is being assisted by son Rolf Whitney, also addressed the jury, asking questions. He said all parties involved were looking to get a “level playing field.”

“The sole purpose of this procedure … is to as much as humanly possibly select 12 individuals, registered voters clear of any preconceived ideas and opinions about this case,” Whitney said.

A second round of larger group jury selection, the second of eight, was set to begin around 2 p.m.

Dylan Sams can be reached at 419-281-0581, ext. 240, and Follow him on Twitter @dylan__sams.

The Shawn Grate case

Shawn Grate was arrested on Sept. 13, 2016 after a woman called 911 and reported she had been abducted. The woman was rescued by Ashland police after they responded to 363 Covert Court, and Grate was taken into custody. Upon further investigation, the bodies of two women were found in the house — Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley.

Grate is accused of killing the two women and kidnapping the woman rescued by police. Grate was indicted of 23 felony charges including four counts of aggravated murder, two for Griffith and two for Stanley.

Grate is also linked to the deaths of three other women, two in Richland County and another in Marion County. He has not been charged in those killings, but admitted to them in an interviews with law enforcement authorities and a Cleveland television station.