Judge rehashes rape-murder after sentence is challenged
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]