KENT, Ohio — Ten years following his son’s tragic and sudden death, a Munroe Falls man said he can finally grieve in peace without having to look over his shoulder. Earlier this month, a Portage County jury ruled in the father’s favor as part of eight-year-long legal battle with Standing Rock Cemetery, which is operated by the City of Kent, over the size and design of his son’s memorial.
Following a two-day civil trial, the jury awarded Fred Molai a total of $750,000 in damages, finding that Standing Rock Cemetery staff had desecrated his son’s gravesite as well as being in breach of contract. The jury also found the cemetery board’s actions caused extreme mental anguish and emotional distress.
Molai’s son, Adam, was killed in a freak rafting accident in California in 2011. Adam Molai, a petty officer in the US Navy, had worked on fighter jets as a mechanic.
“I can start coming here and grieving in peace. That’s all I ever wanted,” Fred Molai said. “Eight years is a long time to be tangled up in court but Adam was behind me the entire time. I was motivated to do it.”
In 2013, Molai and the cemetery board failed to reach an agreement regarding the size, scope, and design of his son's grave marker.
Attorneys representing the cemetery and the City of Kent argued that Molai’s memorial was in violation of the cemetery’s rules and regulations because two poles adorning the headstone failed to conform to the general appearance of the cemetery. Cemetery staff noted that no other burial plot in the large cemetery had a display that resembled Molai’s memorial. Cemetery staff also claimed Molai refused to compromise with them regarding the height of the poles.
The legal back-and-forth, which featured multiple rulings in the cemetery’s favor, came to a head in 2019 when cemetery staff used a saw to forcibly remove part of the display. However, on Sept. 10, the jury presiding over the civil trial found that cemetery staff had selectively enforced certain rules and regulations.
The city intends to file an appeal but has yet to do so.
Immediately after the verdict, Molai, who insists it was never about the money, went to visit his son — just as he has done every day since 2011.“It’s very important. This is a place that I come and grieve. This is a place where I can come and talk to Adam in peace. This is the closest I can get to Adam. He’s only six feet away from me,” Molai said. “I will grieve in peace until I get reunited with my son Adam. I told him that it was over and I can come and visit him in peace without worry that they are going to take the memorial down or not.”