Jurors and a packed courtroom heard riveting, often heartbreaking, testimony today as the prosecution opened its first-degree murder case against former Phoenix Suns nutritionist Doug Grant.
Actually, Jenna Stradling, who is alleged murder victim Faylene Grant's 18-year-old daughter, is on the stand at the moment in downtown Phoenix, undergoing cross-examination by Doug Grant's defense attorney, Mel McDonald. Jenna is an absolutely pivotal witness for the state in this quirky and extremely high-profile case.
As we described in our two-part series on the case, Jenna was at the Grants' home in Gilbert back in September 2001 when Doug Grant pulled his comatose wife out of a bathtub.
Faylene (pictured above) never regained consciousness, and tests later revealed that she had a high level of the sleep aid Ambien in her system. The county medical examiner later ruled the manner of death "undetermined," not homicide, suicide or accident -- though one could argue a case for any of the latter.
Jenna, who was 11 at the time of her mother's death, told police in separate interviews some months after the tragedy that she had forgotten certain details of what had happened on the day her mother died. She did recall seeing her stepfather Doug in the kitchen shortly before he frantically sent her and her two half-brothers to a neighbor's home. That did not comport with Doug's version of the events, and the difference in their account is critical (see earlier stories).
But prosecutor Juan Martinez -- a true junkyard dog in the courtroom and a well-prepared one at that -- revealed for the first time publicly in his opening statement that Jenna would reveal a bunch of vital new information in her testimony, which she did.
The young woman testified that she had tried to get into the master bedroom after awakening on September 28, 2001, to say good morning to her mother, but found the door locked. According to Martinez in his opening statement, "that is exactly when the defendant, Douglas Grant, was drowning her in the bathtub."
How Martinez plans to prove that in this thinnest of murder cases remains to be seen.
Defense attorney McDonald told jurors in his opening that Faylene, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, had "revelations" from God in her final months that told her she was going to die soon. He showed the jurors excerpts from numerous letters in which Faylene had expressed fatalistic thoughts--again, READ THE SERIES to learn much, much more!
Jenna also testified that Doug Grant later warned her at Mesa Valley Lutheran Hospital that if Faylene survived, she would be saying some unspecified "weird" things.
Martinez asked Jenna why she hadn't revealed those factoids and other "new" information to authorities before she apparently told the prosecutor himself in the last year or so.
"I just felt guilty," Jenna replied, sobbing for a spell. "If I had knocked on the door, maybe my Mom would somehow have been alive."
More coming on this remarkable case later this evening. -- Paul Rubin