FILE – This combination of file photos taken on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, by the Bucks County District Attorney shows Sara Packer, left, and Jacob Sullivan. Sullivan pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in the first-degree murder in 2016, the death of the 14-year-old Grace Packer. Sullivan pleaded guilty to all charges in 2016, the death of Grace Packer. The punishment phase of his trial opens Friday, March 15, 2019 outside of Philadelphia. A jury will hear testimony about Sullivan’s crimes, before deciding on a sentence of either life in prison or death. (Bucks County District Attorney via AP, File)
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. – Relatives of a slain 14-year-old girl said Thursday they remain haunted by her torture and terrible death, which the jury for their unrelenting pain during a hearing that will determine whether her killer will be sentenced to life or death.
Jacob Sullivan, 46, pleaded guilty in 2016, rape, murder and mutilation of his girlfriend, the daughter of Grace Packer. The grace of the adoptive mother, Sara Packer, has agreed to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison.
The prosecutors have said Sara Packer hated Grace, shared a rape and murder fantasy with Sullivan, he saw sexually assaulted and strangled her in a hot attic, outside Philadelphia, and helped to hack her body and dispose of months later.
Sara Packer took the stand Wednesday and said Grace had a tendency to be a ” difficult child.”
The defense has said that Sullivan should get the same sentence as Packer — life in prison.
Sara Packer, who wore a red prison jumpsuit, also said that she has a degree in psychology and an IQ over 140.
“Ill me to know that Grace was abused, tortured, and literally thrown away like she was a piece of trash,” her cousin, Brown Heisserer, with whom Grace lived for a time in 2015, according to the court Thursday. “Grace is in a better place now, free from evil and pain.”
Jurors saw photos of the champagne, but restless teenager in happier times: Sitting in the cabin of her uncle’s big rig, frolicking in the sand on her first trip to the beach, delighting in the birthday cake at a pool party. But all of that happened with the family, not with Sara Packer, a former province of adoptions supervisor, who prosecutors say years of physical and psychological abuse of the little girl they fostered and then adopted.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub told the jury Thursday that he agreed to a lifetime imprisonment for Sara in exchange for her confession and guilty plea, because the physical evidence against her was weak, because it was Sullivan who raped and killed Grace, and because her crimes are not eligible for the death penalty.
In a confession to the police, Sullivan said he and Sara Packer off Grace’s death. Sullivan admitted that he was beaten and raped Grace when Sara Packer watched, bound her hands and feet with zip ties and stuffed a ball gag in her mouth. Prosecutors said Sullivan and Packer gave her what they are planning to release a lethal dose of over-the-counter medication and left her to die in a sweltering attic.
Grace eventually managed to escape some of her bindings and spit the gag out, but was not able to make it out of the house before Sullivan and Packer back overnight — about 12 hours later — and Sullivan strangled her as Sara Packer looked up.
The couple stored her body in the litter box for months, hacked and threw it in a remote area where the hunters found it in October 2016, prosecutors said.
The grace, the younger brother, Josh Packer, now 14, told jurors the only way he can bear his loss as adults know her story, and then the act on the prevention of child abuse.
He said in a statement read by a detective that if his big sister was told that she could save other children’s life by giving her own, she would ask, “What should I do?”
“Look out for the children, so that a loss of Grace loss never happens again,” Josh wrote. “Do your best to help the children that can’t help themselves.”
That is not what happened in Grace.
Sara Packer, and her husband at the time, David Packer, adopted Grace and Josh in 2007. The couple cared for dozens of foster children before David Packer was sent to prison for sexual abuse of Grace and a 15-year-old foster daughter, in their Allentown home, about an hour outside of Philadelphia.
Sara Packer lost her job as a Northampton County adoptions supervisor in 2010 and was banned from taking on more foster children. But the child welfare authorities will not remove Grace from the house, despite evidence of abuse.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services started an investigation after the Grace of the murder, but the findings are not made public.