A 2001 killer, then 13, will be released from prison early

Heather Opel, now 34, was one of several young people who killed Jerry Heimann, 64, of Everett. A 22-year sentence was reduced Friday.

Heather Opel in March 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Heather Opel in March 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

EVERETT — The plot to kill Jerry Heimann had festered for days.

The instigator, Barbara Opel, hired a group of teenagers, including her 13-year-old child, Heather, to kill the Everett man.

Heimann, 64, had hired Barbara Opel as a live-in caregiver for his mother at their home in the 3700 block of 22nd Street in Everett. She wanted to kill Heimann, who had terminal cancer, and steal tens of thousands of dollars from him.

The young people ambushed Heimann at the home on April 13, 2001, according to court records. They hit him with baseball bats and stabbed him. From the basement, Barbara Opel, 37, yelled encouragingly.

Heather Opel’s other siblings, 7 and 11, were enlisted to help clean up. The group took Heimann’s body to the Tulalip Reservation. Meanwhile, Heimann’s mother was neglected and later found dehydrated with blood splattered on her wheelchair.

The 11-year-old sibling eventually told police what happened and led investigators to Heimann.

One by one, the teens and the plotter were convicted and sentenced for the Everett murder that drew national attention.

Barbara Opel got life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but jurors spared her life.

Jeffrey Grote, who was Heather’s 17-year-old boyfriend, got 50 years.

Marriam Oliver, who was 14 when she helped kill Heimann, got 22 years.

Kyle Boston, also 14 at the time, got more than 18 years. He has been released. Boston’s cousin, who was 12, was to remain incarcerated until he turned 21.

And Heather Opel got 22 years. Opel was set to get out in April 2023, The Daily Herald reported at the time.

But Heather Opel will get out a little early, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Edirin Okoloko ruled Friday.

At the recommendation of Prosecutor Adam Cornell — but against the wishes of Heimann’s family — the sentence was reduced to 20 years.

The move is part of a broader reform movement to give more leniency in sentencing for younger people whose brains are still developing. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” In recent months, several men convicted in early adulthood for Snohomish County murders have had their life sentences reduced.

Heather Opel in March 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Heather Opel in March 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Cornell argued that Heather Opel, now 34, has been rehabilitated in prison. Court papers include dozens of certificates Opel received while incarcerated, including for team building, decision making and academic courses. A psychologist last year found Opel is a low risk to commit another violent crime.

Cornell said the original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.”

Opel isn’t the first young defendant in this case to get a reduced sentence. Last year, Oliver had her 22-year prison term reduced to 20, like Opel. She was released in October.

In 2013, the state’s Clemency and Pardon Board recommended Oliver’s sentence be commuted. But Gov. Jay Inslee denied the petition. And in 2016, she was denied clemency. The prosecutor at the time, Mark Roe, spoke against Oliver’s early release. Cornell supported Oliver’s recent resentencing.

Heimann’s family remained ardently opposed to Heather Opel’s new sentence.

“Our loved one is gone forever,” the victim’s daughter said in court Friday. “He was taken in the most violent manner possible. We will always be the family of Jerry Heimann, murder victim. That will never change for us.”

While crying, Opel apologized to the family, saying “there isn’t enough words to express the pain and guilt I feel everyday for my actions.”

“I caused unnecessary pain and loss in Mr. Heimann’s family and every other person whose life he touched,” Opel said.

An Anacortes couple adopted Opel in 2018, according to court documents. Upon release, they expect to host Opel, who wants to work as a cement mason. They also hope to take business management classes at Skagit Valley College.

Opel will spend four years on probation.

A written reentry plan asked how Opel hoped to be remembered.

“As a person who valued life,” Opel wrote, “treated others with respect and did the best I could everyday.”

Opel may not be the last of those convicted of Heimann’s killing to get out early, however. People who received lengthy sentences as juveniles in adult court can petition the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for a hearing after they have served at least 20 years, among other requirements.

Grote, who is over 20 years into his 50-year term, petitioned the board. He had a hearing in mid-March and will receive a decision on release within 30 days.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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