In his first court appearance since being charged with the murder of four of his relatives, Grayden Denham showed no emotion while Judge James Van Amburg read the 12 counts lodged against him.
Shackled and still sporting long hair and a bushy beard, Denham, 24, stood before Van Amburg for the lengthy reading of charges at his arraignment Thursday, June 30 in Platte County Circuit Court. Van Amburg entered a not guilty plea on Denham’s behalf and noted since the accused was unrepresented by an attorney he would take no further action on the case until a docket call scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4.
Shelly Denham, the accused’s mother who had previously been outspoken about her son’s innocence in the crimes, had no comment following the arraignment. She and several other family members — as well as representatives of most regional media — made up the bulk of the courtroom audience.
Originally charged only with car theft following the Feb. 19 murders, Denham was represented on that charge by Kansas City criminal defense attorney P.J. O’Connor.
After the arraignment, O’Conner said he had not been retained to represent Denham on homicide and arson charges.
Those charges came as the result of a June 24 grand jury indictment and were announced at a June 27 press conference held by Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd and Platte County sheriff Mark Owen.
The 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.
The felony charge of stealing his grandparents’ vehicle also remained on the indictment.
At the press conference, Zahnd said the determination on whether the state will seek the death penalty has not yet been made. He also declined to give many specifics of the crime and because of the grand jury indictment, no probable cause statement can be made available to the media.
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 actively 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, Ariz. 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.