Mother controlled teen, expert says

By Scott North

Herald Writer

A 14-year-old girl charged with killing an Everett man on her mother’s orders was so in the woman’s thrall she couldn’t even consider refusing, a mental health expert testified Tuesday.

"Her mother was the center — the only center — in her life, and her mother’s control was unquestioned," said Marty Beyer, a psychologist from Great Falls, Va.

The girl is the daughter of Barbara Opel, 38, of Everett. Snohomish Count prosecutors allege Opel in April convinced her child and four other teens that they should kill Jerry Heimann as part of a plan to pilfer the 64-year-old Everett man’s bank accounts.

Beyer’s observations came as Superior Court Judge Charles French continued to take testimony on whether two boys and two girls — ages 13 and 14 — should have their cases moved out of juvenile court and into the adult system.

If the teens are convicted as juveniles, they face a maximum punishment of detention and treatment in a juvenile prison until they reach 21. If convicted in adult court, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years behind bars.

Prosecutors have charged Opel with aggravated first-degree murder and are considering the death penalty. She had worked as a live-in caregiver for Heimann’s ailing 89-year-old mother.

Co-defendant Jeff Grote, 17, in September pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and agreed to a 50-year sentence. His case was automatically moved to adult court because of his age and the seriousness of the charge. He testified last week that Opel’s daughter was his former girlfriend and that she actively participated in the attack stabbing Heimann with a knife and hitting him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat.

Opel’s daughter is represented by Seattle attorney Michele Shaw, who had the girl examined by Beyer, a nationally recognized expert on children, foster care and juvenile justice.

Beyer said records she reviewed showed the girl’s life with Opel was chaotic. Child Protective Services fielded repeated reports of abuse and neglect. Opel’s relationships with men were marred by domestic violence, the woman was destitute and moved her children 22 times in seven years.

Opel was extremely controlling of her daughter, and a "unique type of closeness" developed between the two, Beyer testified. As a result, the girl remained unusually immature in some areas, and to this day does not question her mother, she said.

"In all the time I’ve spent with (the girl), she has said nothing but positive things about her mother," the psychologist added.

She said the girl is "a youngster who does not have violent thought processes or a delinquent mentality," but instead views herself as an athlete and a good student.

The teen would benefit most from treatment in a juvenile setting, not a lengthy prison sentence, Beyer said.

Under questioning from deputy prosecutor George Appel, the psychologist acknowledged that of the dozens of evaluations she has done of young people in somewhat similar legal trouble, she has yet to recommend that any go to prison.

The prosecutor also zeroed in on the girl’s diary. Mixed in among entries about what the teen ate for lunch or her basketball games were nursery rhymes and frank discussions about plans for Heimann’s killing, followed by a party.

Beyer said the diary provides a good tool for the girl’s therapy and could later help her reflect back on her "childish minimizing" of a brutal murder.

The girl can’t think like a healthy adult because she is a child who has been shaped by a life of trauma, the psychologist said.

Lawyers for other defendants in the case watched Tuesday’s hearing.

Opel’s attorney, Pete Mazzone of Everett, said a different picture will emerge once his client gets her day in court.

"The facts that will come out at Barbara Opel’s trial are likely to be much different from what you are hearing here," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read