It was December 3, 1999, when Shawn Grell walked into the State Capitol police office and confessed to murdering his 2-year-old daughter, saying, "I really did this, I killed my daughter, but no one believes me."
About 40 minutes later, officers from the Apache Junction police found the body of Kristen Grell badly burned on a desert road in Apache Junction.
Grell told detectives that he was fired from his job, bought some beer and picked his daughter up from pre-school. They stopped for a hamburger before heading to Mesa to see Christmas lights. Grell got upset as Kristen was calling for her mother and struck the child, bloodying her lips.
"No daddy no"
He then stopped at a store to buy a plastic gas can and filled it with gasoline before heading to Apache Junction. Kristen was asleep until Grell poured the gas on her. She pleaded with him saying, "No daddy no," and stood up as he flicked a match her direction. She ran in circles as Grell left the area, returning later to make sure she was dead.
He tried confessing to the crime when he was pulled over for DUI and again when calling 911. When no one responded, he drove to the State Capitol and confessed to police there.
For the next 14 years, the legal system wrangled over his punishment. Prosecutors and the victim's family called it a planned, cold and heinous murder. He was originally sentenced to death by lethal injection. Grell himself said he was in control of his mind, and, "I deserve it."
Grell has never had a moment of genuine happiness
However, public defenders found that he had brain damage and recommended life with parole. As a child, he was placed in a home for mentally challenged children for five years. He also ran away from other group homes. One evaluator reported, "It appears that Shawn Grell has never had a moment of genuine happiness in his life."
In 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court settled the issue when they concluded that Grell was indeed mentally disabled and overturned his death sentence.