Mo. Man Who Fatally Shot, Then Burned Bodies of Grandparents, Sister, and 3-Month-Old Gets 4 Life Terms

Grayden Lane Denham, 30, was convicted in December for the 2016 rampage and brought to trial only after delays to assess his mental health

Grayden DenhamCredit: Platte County Prosecutor's Office
Grayden Denham. Photo: Platte County Prosecutor's Office

A Missouri man who fatally shot and then burned the bodies of four family members, including a 3-month-old baby, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Grayden Lane Denham, 30, was sentenced Thursday to four terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 115 years, Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said in a statement shared with PEOPLE.

The sentencing followed Denham's conviction in December for the February 2016 rampage, reports NewsPressNow.

Firefighters responding to reports of a structural fire at the rural Edgerton residence that Denham shared with his grandparents discovered the grandmother, Shirley Denham, 81; his sister, Heather Ager, 32; and Ager's 3-month-old son, Mason Schiavoni, all dead and lying in the front yard, according to a probable cause statement previously obtained by PEOPLE.

Sheriff's deputies, who found the home "fully engulfed in flames," also discovered a family dog, Jack, dead in the yard.

The body of Denham's grandfather, 82-year-old Russell Denham, was found near an out building east of the house.

All had been shot and were still on fire, authorities said.

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Denham was missing from the residence along with his grandmother's Nissan Versa, which he was barred from driving because his license had been revoked due to points violations and child support enforcement, according to court documents.

A multi-state manhunt led to Denham being found wandering naked in an Arizona desert with the vehicle he was accused of stealing parked at a nearby hotel, reports FOX4KC.

"This defendant massacred his entire family, including the family dog," Zahnd said in his statement. "He shot each of them --including his three-month old nephew -- in the head, and then he burned their bodies. These were shocking and gruesome murders of a loving family."

Witnesses at Denham's trial testified to rising tensions within the family, including an argument the previous day between Denham and his grandfather, and also to Denham's use of methamphetamine, The Landmark of Platte County reported.

A judge in 2020 ruled that Denham was not mentally fit to stand trial and he was committed to the care of the state's Department of Mental Health. But subsequent evaluations concluded that he was competent to aid his own defense, reports FOX4KC.

Denham had a history of mental health issues, his defense attorney Patrick Berrigan said in court. Assistant prosecutor Mark Gibson countered that any changes in Denham's behavior or character at the time of the murders likely were the result of his drug use, NewsPressNow reported.

Denham was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, four counts of armed criminal action, second-degree arson, animal abuse, and stealing a motor vehicle.

During his trial, Denham's girlfriend testified that one of his favorite movies was The Boondock Saints, in which killers place pennies on the eyes of their victims after killing them. At the Platte County crime scene, each of the victims, including the dog, were found with pennies on or near their eyes, reports The Landmark.

"I believe this is the only quadruple homicide in Platte County history," Zahnd said. "We can pray it is the last. But it's right and just that the man responsible will die in prison for his horrific crimes."

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