Jacob Sullivan stood stone-faced as he was sentenced to death Thursday for the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 14-year-old Grace Packer of Abington.
“You have no soul,” Bucks County Judge Diane E. Gibbons told Sullivan as she sent him to death row. “You are not human.”
Sullivan, 46, admitted last month that he kidnapped, raped, and killed Grace, the adopted daughter of his girlfriend, in 2016. With the girl’s mother, Sara Packer, Sullivan said he attacked Grace and later choked her to death. The couple stored her body in kitty litter, cut up the remains with a bow saw, and disposed of them in the woods of Luzerne County.
On Thursday, in a crowded Doylestown courtroom, a jury of six men and six women recommended that he pay for his crime with his life. Grace’s relatives wept and jurors wiped away tears as they announced their decision after 11 hours of deliberation.
The jurors had said Wednesday afternoon that they were deadlocked, but Gibbons instructed them to keep working. Had they not reached a unanimous decision, Sullivan would have been sentenced to life in prison.
After the jury foreman read the sentence, Sullivan was handcuffed. His relatives — a few of whom had been in court on other days — were absent.
As the jurors were asked one by one whether they agreed on a death sentence, one man wept as he said, “I agree.” Others appeared emotional, too, wiping their eyes as the judge spoke.
Gibbons thanked them for their service, for sitting through “the butchery” in this case, but said this decision should not weigh on their conscience.
“He is where he is by his choice,” Gibbons said. “He made that choice, and he has to live with the consequences.”
Gibbons asked Sullivan whether he wanted to speak. He shook his head and said, “No, thank you.”
The judge then excoriated the hulking man, whom she called “a coward” with “nothing redeeming” about him.
“There are no words for what you are, Mr. Sullivan. There are no words for what you did," she said. “There are no words for what you would continue to do had you not been apprehended.”
Sullivan will join 142 other inmates on Pennsylvania’s death row. No one has been executed in the state since “House of Horrors” killer Gary Heidnik in 1999. But jurors were told not to consider Pennsylvania’s moratorium on the death penalty and to assume that Sullivan would be executed if they sentenced him to death.
Grace’s relatives did not speak after the sentencing. District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said they just wanted to see justice for Grace, whom they described as a happy, artistic child who loved summertime and adored her little brother.
“I don’t think that they were hoping and praying for a particular verdict," he said. "They were comforted to know that regardless of the outcome, this man will never see the light of day. He will never be able to prey on a child again.”
To prosecutors, a death sentence is the best way to ensure that Sullivan can never hurt anyone again, Weintraub said.
“He got what he deserved, plain and simple," the district attorney said. “You could not write a horror movie with a worse script than what was done to Grace Packer.”
For the last week and a half, attorneys had argued over what sentence Sullivan deserved.
Sullivan’s defense attorneys, Jack Fagan and Christina King, said he should be given the same punishment as Sara Packer, who they said was the mastermind of the murder plot. Packer is set to plead guilty Friday and receive a life sentence as part of a plea deal. Prosecutors said Sullivan should be sentenced to death because he, not Packer, killed Grace.
Unshackled and dressed in plainclothes, Sullivan had remained quiet for most of the earlier proceedings, occasionally turning to whisper to his attorneys and at times talking with relatives seated behind him.
He chose not to testify in his own defense, but Packer did, speaking publicly for the first time about how she and her boyfriend had tortured and murdered her adopted child. She said the couple had originally planned to keep Grace alive in the attic, perhaps for years, for Sullivan to rape at will.
On the witness stand, Packer expressed disdain for the child. “Grace had become, for lack of a better word, a nonentity,” she said. "I wanted her to go away.”
For weeks, Packer and Sullivan planned Grace’s torture. One July morning in 2016, they drove her from a home they rented in Abington to another they rented near Quakertown. There, Sullivan attacked Grace, punching her in the face as the girl looked to her mother for help.
Sullivan took Viagra, then raped the girl as Packer watched. Afterward, the couple drugged Grace, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, and put a ball gag in her mouth, leaving her to die inside a cedar closet in the hot attic. But when they returned the next morning, she was alive, having broken the ties and spit out the gag.
Sullivan then “panicked," Packer said, and choked Grace to death. They stored her body in kitty litter until October, when police showed up at the house to question them about Packer’s report that Grace had gone missing.
Alarmed, Packer went out and bought a bow saw so she and Sullivan could dismember the body. After doing so, Sullivan and Packer drove 75 miles to a wooded area and dumped the remains, which were discovered by father-and-son hunters on Halloween.
As authorities ramped up their investigation, Sullivan and Packer attempted suicide, but survived. While recovering in the hospital, Sullivan confessed, telling hospital staff and then police that “Gracie was a nightmare.”