Platte County prosecutors to seek death penalty for Denham

The Platte County Prosecutor’s Office plans to seek the death penalty for Grayden Denham, who stands accused of murdering four of his relatives before setting fire to the family home in Edgerton, Mo. in a grisly crime committed in early 2016.

Denham, 25, is scheduled to appear before Judge James Van Amburg at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 1, where prosecutors plan to present “aggravating circumstances” prompting them to seek capital punishment. Platte County assistant prosecutor Mark Gibson filed the motion on Wednesday, May 24.

Grayden Denham

Grayden Denham

A two-week jury trial is scheduled to begin Monday, June 19 in Platte County.

At a hearing held Thursday, May 18, Gibson reported the prosecutor’s office had offered Denham a plea bargain of life in prison without the possibility of parole. A deadline of May 4 came and went for Denham to accept the deal. Denham himself was absent at the May 18 hearing, with Gibson asking the judge to have Denham brought to court at that time to hear the plea offer in person. 

One of Denham’s attorneys, John O’Connor, objected with Van Amburg then denying Gibson’s request.

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. 

The felony charge of stealing his grandparents’ vehicle also remained on the indictment.

The four victims lived in a house located at 4170 Buena Vista Rd. in Edgerton, while Grayden Denham has been called an occasional occupant of the residence. When authorities responded to reports of a house fire at that address late on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, 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, Ariz. until an extradition process on that theft charge brought him back to Platte County in early June of 2016.

Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd announced the amended charges as a result of a grand jury indictment against Denham during a press conference later that month. He remains in custody at the Platte County Detention Center in lieu of a $4 million cash-only bond.

While the community grieved the loss of a well-known family, Shelley Denham, mother of the accused murderer and Heather Ager, pledged support for her son after a preliminary hearing. She claimed the real perpetrators remain at large and said her son might have been drugged and a victim himself.