Sara Packer pleaded guilty on Friday to the rape, murder and dismemberment of her adopted daughter Grace and was sentenced to life in prison, officially bringing to a close a horrific two-and-a-half-year saga.
Bucks County Judge Diane E. Gibbons, who a day earlier had harsh words when sentencing Packer’s boyfriend Jacob Sullivan to death, expressed similar disdain for Packer.
“The use of the word ‘mother’ out of your mouth is a profanity,” Gibbons said, staring down at Packer as she sat shackled in an orange prison jumpsuit. “It is profane.”
Packer and Sullivan kidnapped 14-year-old Grace, attacked her, raped her, and left her to die in a hot Richland Township attic in July 2016. The next day, when the couple returned to find Grace alive, Sullivan choked her to death. Then, the couple stored her body in kitty litter for months, cut up her remains with a bow saw, and dumped them in the woods 75 miles away near the Poconos.
Sullivan, 46, was sent to death row Thursday at the recommendation of a Bucks County jury that had listened to more than a week of testimony and deliberated for about 11 hours before coming to its decision.
Prosecutors have said they entered into a plea deal with Packer in July 2017, because their case against her was weak and lacked physical evidence. She would not have been eligible for the death penalty because she did not rape and kill the teenager with her own hands, they said.
Packer answered the judge’s questions calmly Friday, and chose not to address the court.
“You have nothing to say?” asked Gibbons.
Packer shook her head, saying “No, your honor.”
Gibbons said she did not believe Packer’s testimony that Sullivan dominated her, nor did the judge believe that Packer had been the mastermind.
“Evil attracts evil, and in Jacob Sullivan you found one of your own” Gibbons said. “This is what happens when two evil people with the same evil intentions get together.”
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Schorn said Packer saw Grace as a “source of income," only keeping her for the checks she received each month from adoption services and Social Security disability.
“What motivated Sara Packer was simple greed,” Schorn said.
Packer’s attorneys, Keith J. Williams and John Fioravanti, said their client had been a standout student, a high school yearbook editor, and a sociology major at Randolph Macon Women’s College. As an adult, she worked for several foster and adoptions services agencies in an attempt to help people.
To ensure such horrific crimes never occur again, Fioravanti said Packer would make herself available in prison to be interviewed by mental health experts and academics.
But Gibbons said she hoped no one took Packer up on that offer.
“There is no cure for people like you,” the judge said. “You didn’t become this. This is who you are.”
When Packer took the witness stand during Sullivan’s sentencing hearing, she matter-of-factly described her adopted child as a “nonentity" and said she and Sullivan had originally planned to keep her in the attic for months for the 350-pound man to rape at will.
Even Gibbons said the gruesome case had taken an emotional toll on her. She ended the Friday afternoon hearing by asking everyone in the courtroom to go home and spend time with loved ones and to “purge” their memories of horrific case. She was going to try to do that herself, she said.