Jenna Stradling, the daughter of alleged victim Faylene Grant, returns to the witness stand later this morning as testimony continues in the wacky and tragic Doug Grant murder case.
Stradling, an 18-year-old student at Brigham Young University, faced a barrage of questions from prosecutor Juan Martinez and defense attorney A. Melvin McDonald Wednesday. Under Arizona law, the 16-person jury (which includes four alternates to be randomly chosen after the trial ends, probably next March) gets to ask its own questions of Jenna after the lawyers are done. What the jurors do ask, if anything, may provide a few early clues as to how and what certain panelists are thinking about the goings-on.
Stradling is a key witness for the prosecution, mainly because she claims to have seen her stepfather, Doug Grant, sitting calmly in the kitchen on the morning of September 28, 2001, shortly before he allegedly returned to the master bedroom at the Gilbert home he shared with his 35-year-old wife Faylene.
Stradling was 11 at the time. Grant wasn't arrested in the case until 2005, after an investigation by Gilbert police fraught with ineptitude and outright bias against the target, a nutritionist and small business owner who once worked with the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks.
We wrote all about it in a two-part series just a click away right here.
Jenna testified that she soon had tried to enter that master bedroom to say good morning to her mother, but the door was locked.
She said Doug Grant soon had come running out of the bedroom down a hallway and ordered her and her two half-brothers to immediately go over to a neighbor's. (Her account of what happened to her next differs greatly from a description given by that neighbor, Andrea Rogers, in an affidavit -- it's in our series.)
Turns out that Faylene Grant had been submerged in the bathtub for an uncertain amount of time, with a hefty -- though apparently not lethal in and of itself -- dose of the sleep drug Ambien in her. She died within hours.
Prosecutor Martinez is claiming that Doug Grant murdered his wife of two months (the couple had been married for about eight years before that, divorced, then remarried in July 2001) because he longed to return to his 19-year-old former girlfriend Hilary, whom he in turn married less than a month after Faylene's death.
To some onlookers (especially those in the packed courtroom without a vested interest in the outcome), Jenna's account from the witness stand, while heart-rending and deeply emotional at times -- the girl tragically lost her beloved mother, after all -- seemed to have been coached at times, especially during McDonald's ongoing cross-examination.
Jenna coldly referred to her stepfather, who had raised her with Faylene from about the age of three, as "the defendant, Mr. Doug Grant," and the sheer hatred that she has for the man is palpable. She often complained to McDonald that he was asking her "compound questions," and wondered aloud why he was asking her about Mormon doctrine -- which is a critical underlying plot point in this case.
But the fast-on-her-feet young woman finally conceded that, until she sat in the courtroom for opening statements, she had been unaware of the numerous "farewell" letters and other writings penned by her mother in the months before the bathtub drowning. These handwritten missives -- a crucial part of the defense case -- strongly suggest that Faylene Grant long had a kind of death wish, or that she believed she had received revelations of her impending death from God.
None of these so-called revelations, however, involved Doug Grant as the murderer. In fact, there is precious little evidence against Grant in this case -- no confession, no physical evidence, and a shaky motive. But that doesn't mean he's gonna walk: The guy cheated on his wife (at least during his first marriage to her), and the manner in which he handled things after she died (especially marrying young Hilary so quickly), well, jurors (like the Lord) sometimes work in mysterious ways.
Postscript: Several readers have called and e-mailed me objecting to us calling this the "Mormon Murder" case. "Why tarnish those of us who are LDS by turning this tragic situation into a condemnation of our faith?" a nice lady from Mesa named Darlene asked me on the phone last week.
I told her I'm not condemning anything, but at the heart of this most interesting case is the fact that Faylene seemed to obsessively believe that she soon would be headed to the Celestial Kingdom (the LDS version of heaven). There, she someday would be joined eternally by Doug, Doug's former squeeze and future wife Hilary, and their collective children.
Whew! -- Paul Rubin