A hearing for the man accused of raping, killing and dismembering a young adopted girl last year will be held in Doylestown, Bucks County, Friday and likely include a notice from prosecutors that they may seek the death penalty.
Jacob Sullivan, who is alleged to have raped and murdered Grace Packer in a rented Bucks County home while Grace's adoptive mother Sara Packer watched, will go before a judge for a formal arraignment.
Packer was arraigned March 10 and the Bucks County District Attorney gave "notice of aggravating circumstances" at her hearing. The notice does not mean prosecutors will definitely seek the death penalty, but it is required at arraignment for the option to be available at trial.
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Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said after Packer's hearing that "it's early in the case and there's a lot to consider." The aggravating circumstances include the allegation that Grace was tortured prior to her death and that her murder was committed during the course of another felony crime of kidnapping.
Grace Packer's troubled life came to an end at the age of 14 last July when, authorities allege, Packer and live-in boyfriend Sullivan, carried out a "rape-murder fantasy" on the teenager.
The couple allegedly beat, raped and killed Grace Packer in their rented home in Quakertown and left her in the attic for months before eventually dumping the body in a wooded area of Luzerne County, according to authorities. Hunters found the girl's body. Both suspects are being held without bail.
The case is complicated by the long history of alleged abuse that Grace suffered after she was adopted by Sara Packer and Sara's ex-husband, David Packer in 2004. The Packers fostered more than two dozen children over the course of a decade in addition to formally adopting Grace and Grace's younger brother in Berks County.
Grace's murder has also raised red flags about oversight and management of county agencies known as Children, Youth and Family. Much remains unclear about the Packers' fostering and adoptions, which involved Children, Youth and Family agencies in at least two counties. Officials in several counties across eastern Pennsylvania have declined to provide details about the Packers, citing the ongoing criminal case. The state Department of Human Services, which purportedly provides oversight of the county agencies, also has released few details about the Packers' long history with adoption and foster care.
Montgomery and Northampton counties have canceled contracts with certain contracted adoption agencies linked to the Packers, NBC10 has previously reported.
Sara packer worked as a case manager for Northampton County Children, Youth and Family before she was fired two months before then-husband David Packer was charged with sexually assaulting one of the couple's foster children and Grace Packer in 2010.
Weintraub's office declined to comment Thursday on Sullivan's hearing. Sullivan's attorney with the county Public Defender's Office also declined to comment.
A notice of aggravating circumstances was filed in Sullivan's case Wednesday by the DA's office with Common Pleas Judge Diane Gibbons, according to online court records.
A trial date has not yet been set for Packer, records show.
Three convicted murderers have been executed in Pennsylvania since the state re-instituted the death penalty in 1976. The last to be killed was Gary Heidnik of Philadelphia in 1999.
There are 173 inmates on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Execution List.