A kinder picture of killing victim emerges

For nearly five weeks, Barbara Opel and her defense lawyers depicted Jerry Heimann as a mean, drunken abuser.

That portrayal was painful to family members who sat through the trial.

Heimann’s family will have the last word today, when the 39-year-old Everett woman is sentenced to life in prison without possibility of release.

A Snohomish County Superior Court jury last week decided on the life sentence after first agreeing that she was guilty of aggravated first-degree murder for hiring five teenagers to ambush and kill Heimann on April 13, 2001.

Judge Gerald Knight will pronounce sentence, a formality after the jury’s verdict. Members of the Heimann family also will have a chance to speak to the court.

In her trial, Opel testified that Heimann became increasingly abusive to her and her three children, and she only wanted him beaten, not killed.

“That was very hard to hear,” said Kelly Muller of Oregon, Heimann’s daughter. “He wasn’t a perfect human being. Nobody is.”

But he wasn’t an abuser, Muller said.

The victim’s son, Greg Heimann of Arkansas, said he didn’t like Opel’s testimony that Jerry Heimann was naked once when 13-year-old Heather Opel went upstairs to his bedroom to deliver the telephone when a call came for his father.

“I was very angry about them saying he was a pervert,” Greg Heimann said. “That was unfounded. He wouldn’t have done that.”

Heimann, 64, was a Boeing Co. retiree who was suffering from terminal cancer. He was born in North Dakota and lived in Spokane and California before moving to Snohomish County in 1969.

He was diagnosed with cancer up to a year before his death and declined treatment, partly because he wanted to be alert as long as possible to take care of his 89-year-old mother, Evelyn Heimann, who could not walk or feed herself.

He took Opel and her three children into his house to help him care for Evelyn Heimann, bought them Christmas presents in 2000 and helped Heather Opel with her homework, according to testimony.

“He needed a little help with grandma. She (Barbara Opel) needed room and board more than he needed her help,” Greg Heimann said.

The abuse allegations particularly irked family members, and Jerry Heimann’s ex-wife, Mary Lou Cannon of Everett, who was married to him for 17 years.

Although he had four wives and divorced them all, “I still had feelings for him,” Cannon said.

The relatives painted an entirely different picture of Jerry Heimann, saying he was warm and generous. He loved the outdoors, animals and loved to cook. He fished, had a cabin where he invited friends and relatives, and taught a love of sports to his children, they said.

At one time, he helped build the softball field in Lake Stevens where Heather Opel played.

Muller said Barbara Opel fooled her father and a lot of other people, pretending to be attentive to Evelyn Heimann.

“She put on a good show when people were there,” Muller said.

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