A Doylestown man charged with raping, killing, and dismembering 14-year-old Grace Packer in 2016 is finally headed to trial. On Friday, a Bucks County judge vowed there would be no further delays in the case against Jacob Sullivan, and denied a defense request to postpone the proceedings as they await a higher court’s ruling on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
“I see this issue as very clear and easy,” Common Pleas Court Judge Diane E. Gibbons said. “The request for a delay here is for a delay that is indefinite.... We could be waiting here for another year or two.”
With that ruling, Friday’s pretrial conference in Doylestown was set to be one of the final court sessions before Sullivan’s trial, which is to begin in March. At the hearing, Gibbons not only denied the defense motion to postpone the trial, but also reviewed grisly crime scene photos to determine which could be shown to a jury.
For months, Sullivan, 46, and his girlfriend Sara Packer, 44, planned to kill Packer’s adopted daughter Grace as part of a twisted sexual fantasy, authorities said. In announcing the couple’s arrest in January 2017, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub called their actions “heinous" and “unspeakable."
Authorities said Sullivan and Packer attacked Grace at a home they rented near Quakertown in July 2016. They said Sullivan raped Grace as Packer watched, then the couple drugged, bound and gagged the girl, and left her to die in an hot attic.
When they returned to find Grace still conscious, Sullivan suffocated her, then he and Packer put her body in kitty litter. Three months later, after police came to follow up on the investigation of her reported disappearance, Packer and Sullivan cut up Grace’s remains and dumped them in Luzerne County woods, authorities said.
Father-and-son hunters found the remains, originally thinking they were those of animals, Weintraub said.
If convicted, Sullivan could face the death penalty.
On Friday, his public defenders, Christina King and Jack Fagan, argued that Sullivan’s trial should be delayed until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on whether to block the death penalty in the state unless changes are made in how it is carried out. Just three people have been executed in Pennsylvania in the last 56 years, while hundreds of death warrants have been signed.
In Sullivan’s case, Weintraub contended that the court had no obligation to wait for the high court’s ruling. Gibbons agreed.
Gibbons also viewed several crime scene photos that prosecutors want to show at trial. Those photos included images of Grace’s severed body parts, as they were found in the woods and as they were examined during an autopsy.
The judge agreed to allow some of the photos to be shown at trial, but denied the admission of others, noting the trauma they could inflict on jurors.
“These photographs are disturbing,” she said.
Sullivan, stone-faced with his dark hair slicked back, looked at the images with his attorneys as they were shown on computer screens pointed away from the gallery. He clasped his shackled hands on his lap, occasionally looking down, clenching his jaw, and closing his eyes.
Packer reported her adopted daughter missing in July 2016. After Grace’s remains were found and police asked the public for help in the case, the couple overdosed, but survived. They were charged a week later after Sullivan allegedly told an intensive-care nurse that he had killed Grace.
That nurse testified at a hearing last year: “He said he didn’t know why they [authorities] were coming down so hard on Sara when he was the one who killed Grace.... He always felt like he was in a dark place and wanted to kill.”