Sara Packer, accused of conspiring with her boyfriend to rape and murder her adopted daughter, pleaded not guilty Friday in the death of 14-year-old Grace Packer.
Prosecutors also filed Friday to reserve the right to seek the death penalty against Packer, 42, alleging torture and homicide while committing another felony as aggravating factors.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said his office had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison, but the arraignment was the deadline for filing to leave the death-penalty option open.
Charges against Packer, formerly of Abington and Quakertown, include homicide, kidnapping, abuse of corpse, and conspiracy. Appearing in Doylestown before Bucks County Judge Diane E. Gibbons, she acknowledged the charges and entered the not-guilty plea.
"It was pretty straightforward today," said Weintraub.
Grace Packer, a student at Abington Junior High School, disappeared from the family's Abington home in July. Sara Packer reported her missing. In January, Packer and boyfriend Jacob Sullivan, 44, were accused of carrying out a scheme in which Sullivan raped the girl, and the couple gave her an overdose of drugs and left her to die in the attic of the Quakertown home where the family had moved.
The next day, finding her alive, Sullivan allegedly strangled her. The couple kept her body in the attic for months, packed in cat litter, until they dismembered her in the bathtub with a saw and dumped the parts in Luzerne County, where two hunters found them in October.
Packer had been an adoptions supervisor in Northampton County, and had both worked for and been served by other child-services agencies in the area.
This week, officials in Northampton and Lehigh Counties announced they were cutting ties with the Impact Project, a private foster care agency, after allegations made public by Northampton County that the agency was told more than 10 years ago about abuse by Packer.
Packer had once worked for the agency, but it also supplied her family with services, according to state officials.
Weintraub said his office would focus on "getting justice for Grace. That being said, I would not be surprised if this [case] had some far-reaching positive consequences in the child protective services" realm, he said.
Packer's lawyers said in January that they were preparing for a death-penalty case. They said Packer was "very devastated" by the charges and suggested she had been manipulated by men in her life. She is set to be represented by Keith J. Williams during the trial and John J. Fioravanti Jr. during the penalty phase, if it occurs.