Jenna Stradling -- the 18-year-old stepdaughter of murder defendant Doug Grant (the smiling guy in the photo) and a key prosecution witness in the high-profile case -- finally finished testifying a few hours ago after several tense days on the stand.
The Brigham Young University freshman withstood a grueling cross-examination by Grant defense attorney A. Melvin McDonald, maintaining that she had tried to get into the master bedroom of her Gilbert home to see her mother, Faylene, on the morning of September 28, 2001, only to find the door locked.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez had told the jury in his opening statement that former Phoenix Suns nutritionist Doug Grant had locked the door before lifting his 35-year-old wife into a bathtub and drowning her. Faylene Grant had ingested a large amount of the sleep aid Ambien shortly before paramedics rushed to the residence that morning.
It was painful at times to watch and listen to Jenna testify. Whatever the manner of death -- murder, suicide, or accident -- the beautiful young woman tragically lost her mother at the age of 11, and also has been deprived of a meaningful relationship with her two younger brothers (the progeny of Doug and Faylene).
Still, her testimony at times seemed rehearsed: Everything Jenna said seemed designed to implicate her stepfather as the bad guy, including several damning statements (including the one about the allegedly locked bedroom door) that she had failed to mention to police in interviews months after her mother's death.
It's not hard to understand the young woman's animus toward Doug Grant and, by proxy, toward his attorney McDonald.
She has had no contact or relationship with Grant since shortly after Faylene died, but has remained extremely close with her mother's side of the family. That side includes two of Faylene's sisters and her mother, who have been faithfully attending the trial at the Maricopa County courthouse.
It would have been surprising (psychologically speaking) if Jenna had stuck with her original story to the cops -- that is, how Grant had treated her mother like a queen after their remarriage in the summer of 2001, and how there's no way in hell he ever would have hurt her.
Jenna told the jury there was no way that God would have allowed her mother into the Celestial Kingdom -- the Mormon version of heaven -- if Faylene had committed suicide. Attorney McDonald, who is LDS himself, asked the 18-year-old if Mormon theology teaches that God considers each suicide case on an individual basis, and that someone with serious mental problems still might be granted dispensation into that sacred kingdom.
"I've been taught from the teachings," Jenna snapped back, staying with her original answer.
"So all people who commit suicide have the same consequences in the hereafter?" McDonald asked her.
It will be interesting to see how and if McDonald counters Jenna's point of view on Mormons and suicide: Actually, as we learned in reporting our series on the case that mainstream Mormon thinkers have written and taught extensively on the topic, and that many conclude that God does take a person's entire life into consideration before deciding his or her destination in the afterlife.
In other words, Faylene Grant -- a deeply spiritual Mormon -- still could have been welcomed into the Celestial Kingdom even if she had committed suicide.
To be continued. -- Paul Rubin