Judge re­hashes rape-mur­der after sentence is chal­lenged

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Lau­rie Mason Schroeder

When Bucks County Judge Diane Gib­bons in March sen­tenced Ja­cob Sullivan to death plus what amounted to a con­sec­u­tive life sentence for the rape and mur­der of 14-year-old Grace Packer, she told the Hor­sham man that he “had no soul.”

Legally, that wasn’t enough to jus­tify the harsh penalty, his lawyers suc­cess­fully ar­gued in post-trial mo­tions, forcing Gib­bons to re­sen­tence Sullivan on Thurs­day and re­hash the sor­did crime. In the end, Sullivan’s sentence re­mained the same.

“There is no doubt in my mind that, given the opportunit­y, the de­fen­dant would en­gage in the same conduct,” Gib­bons said dur­ing a hearing at the Bucks County Jus­tice Cen­ter in Doylestown.

“He is ob­sessed with sex­ual mat­ters and ob­sessed with sex­ual vi­o­lence, and he’s will­ing to kill to carry out his sex­ual fan­tasies. Which, un­for­tu­nately, are not fan­tasies any longer.”

Sullivan, 45, pleaded guilty in Fe­bru­ary to first-de­gree mur­der and other charges, then a jury was seated to de­cide his sentence.

Ju­rors de­lib­er­ated for more than 12 hours over three days be­fore sen­tenc­ing Sullivan to death by lethal in­jec­tion, a de­ci­sion the jury fore­man said he hoped gave Grace a voice. The teen, who grew up in Al­len­town, was adopted by Sullivan’s girl­friend Sara Packer, a for­mer Northamp­ton County adop­tion su­per­vi­sor.

On top of his death sentence, Gib­bons gave Sullivan an ad­di­tional 44 to 88 years be­hind bars, a term that would only be rel­e­vant if his cap­i­tal ap­peal is suc­cess­ful.

Sullivan chal­lenged both Gib­bons’ sentence and the jury’s find­ing. The state Supreme Court will hear his chal­lenge to the death penalty.

As part of his guilty plea, Sullivan ad­mit­ted he and Packer dis­mem­bered Grace’s body and dumped the re­mains in Luzerne County, where they were found by hunters on Hal­loween 2016.

In a chill­ing confession that was taped and played in court for the jury, Sullivan told de­tec­tives that he and Packer plot­ted Grace’s rape and mur­der for months and car­ried it out on July 8, 2016, in a Rich­land Town­ship home they rented. Dur­ing the rape, Sullivan said, the weep­ing teen begged her mother for help.

Packer reached a plea deal with pros­e­cu­tors and was sen­tenced to life be­hind bars. She has not filed any post-sentence mo­tions.

Dressed in a blue prison uni­form, his long hair slicked back in a pony­tail, Sullivan slumped in his chair at the de­fense ta­ble and said only “yes” when the judge asked him if he un­der­stood his rights.

The hearing was called be­cause Sullivan’s at­tor­neys ar­gued in post­sen­tence mo­tions that Gib­bons did not ad­e­quately place her rea­sons for de­vi­at­ing from state sen­tenc­ing guide­lines on the record when she sen­tenced him on crimes in­clud­ing in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sex­ual in­ter­course, kid­nap­ping of a mi­nor and abuse of a corpse.

For nearly an hour Thurs­day, Gib­bons re­counted Sullivan’s ac­tions be­fore and after the rape and mur­der, as well as the sev­eral state­ments he made to hospi­tal staff and de­tec­tives fol­low­ing his failed sui­cide at­tempt.

“He liked killing Grace. He told peo­ple he was a clos­eted rapist. He en­joyed the sex­ual as­sault. He said he al­ways wanted to kill,” Gib­bons said.

In the court­room au­di­ence, about a dozen peo­ple who were wait­ing to plead guilty to drunken driv­ing lis­tened to the judge read off the list. Sev­eral gasped as Gib­bons touched on more grue­some de­tails.

Gib­bons said she took into con­sid­er­a­tion the im­pact the crime had on Grace’s brother and other fam­ily mem­bers, as well as the com­mu­nity.

Most of all, Gib­bons said, she con­sid­ered the way Sullivan and Packer treated Grace, and the fear she must have felt dur­ing the 12 hours they left her hogtied in a hot at­tic after the rape.

“The im­pact the crime had on this lit­tle girl … is beyond my abil­ity to ex­press,” the judge said.

Since Gib­bons had to va­cate Sullivan’s orig­i­nal sentence be­fore re­sen­tenc­ing him, his ap­peal clock starts all over and he’ll have an opportunit­y to file ad­di­tional post-sentence mo­tions.

Morn­ing Call re­porter Lau­rie Mason Schroeder can be reached at 610-820-6506 or lma­[email protected]

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