DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP/WTXF) - Prosecutors in Bucks County filed paperwork in court on Friday maintaining their right to seek the death penalty against the 42-year-old woman charged in a gruesome murder case that stunned the region late last year.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub filed a “notice of aggravating circumstances” against Sara Packer claiming the killing of her 14-year-old adopted daughter Grace came during “the perpetration of a felony” and was “committed by means of torture.”
“If there are certain aggravating factors in a case, we have an obligation to file notice to preserve that right should we decide to seek it at trial,” Weintraub said. “Obviously, the facts are terrible. But we are obligated to look at this with a legal perspective."
Prosecutors say Sara Packer conspired with 44-year-old boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, to kill her adopted daughter, watched Sullivan beat and rape the teen, helped hide her daughter's body, bought the saw used to dismember that body and then lied to investigators looking into what they thought was a "missing person" case.
Sara Packer is also charged with illegally collecting more than $4,000 in government benefits after Grace's death.
Grace Packer's death—a story of abuse and neglect—shone a harsh spotlight on the inadequacies in Pennsylvania's foster care and adoptions oversight.
In January, sympathetic strangers organized a memorial service in Glenside, designed to show Grace the dignity in death she had not received in life.
The girl's biological mother was there for the tribute.
When asked what people should know about her daughter, Rose Hunsicker said, sobbing, “that her memory and her smile will never fade away."
Court documents state Jacob Sullivan has confessed to squeezing the life out of the nearly unconscious teen.
Defense attorneys for Sara Packer may hang their hat on that admission. They entered a “not guilty” plea on her behalf Friday.
"Certainly the allegations in this case are very serious and horrific,” said Keith Williams. “But I would point out what we've said from the beginning; we don't believe there will ever be any evidence that my client killed anybody."
Williams told reporters he may seek to move the trial, or at least jury selection, out of Bucks County due to pre-trial publicity that has generated so much outrage.
"Look what I'm looking at right now, all these cameras and reporters. That's a challenge with any criminal defense when it gets so much scrutiny."
Jacob Sullivan’s formal arraignment is set for March 31.