Lawyer for accused murderer still questioning prosecutor's office

Although set to have a hearing last week, Grayden Denham’s next scheduled appearance in Platte County Circuit Court will be in December.

A Thursday, Oct. 12 hearing was continued out of court, until Thursday, Dec. 14. Denham stands accused of the murder of four of his relatives and the arson of the family home on Feb. 20, 2016 in Edgerton, Mo.

Grayden Denham

Grayden Denham

Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd announced in early summer that he planned to seek the death penalty in the case. A planned June trial by jury was canceled.

Denham’s attorney John P. O’Connor did make an appearance last Thursday before Platte County Circuit Court judge James Van Amburg with another client and issued a message affecting all of his cases.

“I will continue to make the record in this case and others I bring up here that this is a real issue and continues to go on,” O’Connor said, citing what he calls “petulant and retaliatory behavior” against him from the Platte County prosecutor’s office.

O’Connor is referring to ethics complaints he filed earlier this year against Zahnd regarding the case of Darren Paden, a Dearborn, Mo. man who pleaded guilty in 2015 to sexually abusing a girl. O’Connor accused Zahnd of bullying and intimidating witnesses, and perhaps Paden himself.

The incident was detailed in an April report by KCUR — a public radio station in Kansas City — and covered in The Citizen and other local media.

Platte County assistant prosecutor Myles Perry told Van Amburg he would not respond to the allegations. Earlier this year, O’Connor asked to have Zahnd disqualified as prosecutor in some cases, including Denham’s, citing concerns that Zahnd could not treat him fairly due to the ongoing litigation.

The court denied O’Connor’s request in Denham’s case.

The 12 charges against Grayden 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. Grayden 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, according to court documents. 

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.

In May, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office offered Denham and attorney O’Connor a plea deal. However, the defendant declined to respond, leading the state to seek the death penalty in a jury trial.