Death penalty case against Denham not heard at hearing

The upcoming jury trial of Grayden Denham, who stands accused of the murder of four of his relatives and the arson of the family home in Edgerton, Mo., has been delayed. 

Denham, 25, was not present at a hearing held Thursday, June 1, where prosecutors planned to present the “aggravating circumstances” leading them to seek the death penalty against him for the February 2016 murders. Platte County assistant prosecutor Mark Gibson represented the prosecutor’s office.

Grayden Denham

Grayden Denham

Platte County Circuit Court judge James Van Amburg said the case was to be continued to allow additional time for discovery and depositions. He called for the cancellation of the two-week jury trial, which was scheduled to begin Monday, June 19. Van Amburg said he will review the case at a hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 3. 

A new trial date could be set at that hearing.

There was no discussion of the prosecutor’s request to seek the death penalty. Gibson and Van Amburg also exchanged comments regarding “another matter,” which Gibson later said was unrelated to the death penalty request. 

Gibson said no additional filings had been made, and he declined further comment.

The 12 charges against Denham include four counts of first degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action in the homicides of his sister Heather Ager, 32, his three-month-old nephew Mason Schiavoni, his grandmother, Shirley Denham, 81, and his grandfather, Russell Denham, 82. Denham is also charged with felony arson for destruction of the family home, a felony for tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor for animal abuse. 

A felony charge of stealing his grandparents’ vehicle also remained on the grand jury indictment announced in June of 2016.

The four victims and the accused were residents of the same house at 4170 Buena Vista Road in Edgerton, although Grayden Denham has been called only an occasional occupant. When authorities responded to reports of a house fire at that address late on Friday, Feb. 19, they found four victims shot with the bodies still burning outside of the house. Three of the victims were found in the front yard, while Russell Denham’s body was located near an outbuilding with a red plastic gasoline container found nearby. 

A family dog was also found shot and burning at the scene.

Authorities apprehended Denham two days later while he was walking naked in Seligman, Ariz. They also located a brown 2012 Nissan Versa at a nearby hotel. The vehicle, belonging to Russell and Shirley Denham, was discovered missing during the fire/homicide investigation.

Denham was not a registered guest at the hotel, and authorities also found a pile of clothing outside of the vehicle.

Denham was charged in Platte County with the theft of the Versa, which when it was found bore Oklahoma license plates taken from a rental car. He remained in custody in Yavapi County, Arizona until an extradition process on that theft charge brought him back to Platte County in early June. Denham remains in custody at the Platte County Detention Center in lieu of a $4 million cash-only bond.

Late last month, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office offered Denham and attorney John O’Connor a plea deal. However, the defendant declined to respond, leading the state to seek the death penalty.