DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania—A woman who plotted the rape, torture and murder of her own teenage daughter pleaded guilty on Friday, March 29, and was sentenced to life in prison for a crime so barbaric that prosecutors and the judge strained for superlatives to describe it.
One day after her co-conspirator boyfriend was sentenced to death, Sara Packer, 44, appeared in a suburban Philadelphia courthouse and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and 16 other offenses in the 2016 slaying of 14-year-old Grace Packer.
“Evil attracts evil. Evil recognizes evil. And in Jacob Sullivan, you found one of your own,” Bucks County Judge Diane Gibbons, her voice dripping with contempt, told Packer in sentencing her to the maximum term.
“You like rape. You like murder. That’s a fact,” said Gibbons, decrying the “rot” and “warped depravity” on display in the case.
Packer, whose crimes were not eligible for Pennsylvania’s death penalty, did not make a statement.
Prosecutors said Packer and her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, shared a rape-murder fantasy and spent months plotting Grace’s slaying in a vacant house about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.
This is the statement from Grace Packers little brother. Please read it and share it. https://t.co/EEP9zdTyfu
— LaurieMasonSchroeder (@LehighCourts) March 28, 2019
Sara Packer testified that the couple took her adoptive daughter to a sweltering attic and gave her what they intended to be a lethal overdose of medicine. Sullivan sexually assaulted her as Sara Packer watched. They bound her hands and feet with zip ties, stuffed a ball gag in her mouth and left her to die.
Grace eventually managed to escape some of her bindings. But she was unable to make it out of the house before Sullivan and Sara Packer returned overnight—some 12 hours later—and Sullivan strangled her while Sara Packer held her hand and watched her die.
Sara Packer and Sullivan stored Grace’s body in cat litter for months, then dismembered it and dumped the remains in a remote, wooded area of northeastern Pennsylvania where hunters found it in October 2016.
Bucks County prosecutor Jennifer Schorn said in court Friday that Sara Packer—a former county adoptions supervisor who had fostered dozens of children over the years—saw Grace Packer as a source of government benefits and nothing more.
Schorn and the judge marveled at how someone who professed to be a mother could have been so cruel.
“It defies nature, what she did,” Schorn said.
Sullivan, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, was sentenced to death by a jury Thursday. Packer admitted in court during Sullivan’s sentencing hearing that she hated Grace and “wanted her to go away.”
#BREAKING: Jacob Sullivan has been sentenced to death in the 2016 rape, murder and dismemberment of 14-year-old Grace Packer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. https://t.co/gwt0kQ6B04 pic.twitter.com/cEiUOv2eT3
— Action News on 6abc (@6abc) March 28, 2019
Sara Packer lost her job at Northampton County’s children and youth department in 2010 after her husband at the time, David Packer, was sent to prison for sexually assaulting Grace and another foster child. But child welfare authorities did not remove Grace from the home, despite evidence of abuse.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services launched an investigation after Grace’s murder. Its report was sealed while Packer and Sullivan were being prosecuted, but is expected to be made public on Monday.
After the sentencing, District Attorney Matt Weintraub called on lawmakers to pass a child protection law called “Grace’s Law.”
“Grace’s memory will no longer be bound to that of these two predators. She is free,” Weintraub said.
By Michael Rubinkam