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. – The mother of a girl that was raped, murdered and dismembered testified Wednesday that she helped plot the attack and run, tells the teenager, “I can’t help you no more. This is your life now.”
Sara Packer took the witness stand at the sentencing hearing for her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, who pleaded guilty in 2016, rape, murder and mutilation of 14-year-old Grace Packer and is faced with a potentially fatal. She has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and other crimes in exchange for a life sentence.
“Grace had become, for lack of a better word, a non-entity. She just wanted to not exist anymore. I wanted her to go away,” Packer said quietly, in a monotone. They appeared a grin on time.
Her daughter had a discipline problem — a “very difficult child” —and she wanted to kill her, ” she said.
Sara Packer admitted she 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.
Earlier in the hearing, other members of the family testified about the impact of the killing.
“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, said in the court. “Grace is in a better place now, free from evil and pain.”
Jurors saw photos of the vibrant Grace 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 that he agreed to a lifetime imprisonment for Sara Packer 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.
But Weintraub has made clear what he thought of the Packer.
“Is it fair to say that you are an utter and miserable failure to be a valuable man?” he thundered at her.
Packer testified that she and Sullivan tried to kill Grace with an overdose of over-the-counter medicines, thinking the pills and the heat of the attic would kill her. She also gave to help bind her daughter with zip ties, and stuffing a ball gag in her mouth.
The couple left her to die.
Grace eventually managed to escape some of her bindings and spit the gag out. But she was not able to make it out of the vacant house before Sullivan and Packer back overnight — about 12 hours later — and Sullivan strangled her as Sara Packer looked up.
Packer and Sullivan saved Grace’s body in the litter box for months, hacked and threw it in a remote area where the hunters found it in October 2016.
In a statement read by a detective Grace, the younger brother, Josh Packer, now 14, said 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 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.
This story is corrected to the testimony was Wednesday, not Thursday.