Girl, 14, pleads innocent to murder

By Scott North

Herald Writer

An Everett teen-ager whose mother could face the death penalty pleaded innocent Tuesday to a first-degree murder charge that could send her to prison for more than 20 years.

Heather L. Opel, 14, entered the plea during a brief hearing in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Along with two other teens, Opel is facing adult charges in the April killing of Jerry Heimann, 64, of Everett. All initially were charged as juveniles, but their cases were moved to adult court earlier this month after Judge Charles French ruled, for a variety of reasons, that justice and the community would be better served.

Opel’s attorney, Michele Shaw of Seattle, on Tuesday asked French to postpone arraigning her client on the adult murder charge. She said she’s filed a motion asking the state Court of Appeals to review French’s decision to move the case to adult court.

"The prejudice to my client is absolutely obvious," Shaw said, explaining that if Opel is convicted, she almost certainly will be sent to the state’s women’s prison at Purdy instead of a juvenile facility. It will be too late if a court later rules Opel didn’t belong in the adult system, she said.

French declined to delay moving the case forward, saying he is not persuaded that the state Court of Appeals will grant review before there is a trial.

He scheduled Opel’s trial for Jan. 4, although it is almost certain not to occur then.

Also facing adult charges are Marriam D. Oliver of Everett, 14, and Kyle W. Boston, 15, of Arlington. Prosecutors say all of the teens agreed to participate in killing Heimann as part of a robbery plot. The plan allegedly was conceived by Heather Opel’s mother, Barbara, 38, of Everett, who had worked for Heimann.

Barbara Opel is charged with aggravated first-degree murder, and prosecutors are considering asking for the death penalty.

Another defendant, Jeff Grote, 17, Heather Opel’s former boyfriend, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and under a plea agreement likely will be sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Charges against a 13-year-old Marysville boy allegedly involved in the killing will remain in juvenile court. If convicted, he faces a maximum punishment of treatment in a juvenile prison until 21.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

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