Opel lawyers ask for a new judge

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

A judge who was asked to step down from presiding over an aggravated murder case because he knows too much about it said he will make that decision next week.

The question for Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Charles French was posed as a result of a motion by the attorneys for Barbara Opel, 38, who is charged in the stabbing and beating death of Jerry Heimann, 64, of Everett.

She is accused of recruiting five teen-agers to help her kill and rob Heimann. It’s an aggravated murder case, and prosecutors are considering whether to ask for the death penalty.

Brian Phillips, one of Opel’s lawyers, argued Friday that French has too much knowledge about the case after presiding over a lengthy proceeding in Snohomish County Juvenile Court. At the time, he decided two 14-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy should be tried as adults. French kept the case of a 13-year-old boy in Juvenile Court, where the penalties would be much less severe.

The fifth teen, a 17-year-old boy, was automatically kept in adult court because of his age and the severity of the crime.

Phillips said attorneys for the juveniles kept "throwing blame at Barbara Opel" in Juvenile Court without giving her a chance to respond.

He told the judge that French will have to make numerous decisions on evidence and on pretrial motions in his client’s case.

Although he made it clear he didn’t believe French would be deliberately unfair, some other reasonable person might conclude otherwise because of the judge’s knowledge of the case.

"It could appear to a reasonable person that Ms. Opel will not get a fair trial," Phillips said. Maintaining appearance of fairness "is fundamental to the rule of law in our society."

Phillips, who frequently appears before French, said he didn’t enjoy asking the judge to recluse himself.

In a separate decision last week, French stepped aside to let another judge handle the murder trial of Opel’s 14-year-old daughter, Heather.

Prosecutors said they don’t believe there is an appearance of fairness problem in either the Barbara or Heather Opel cases.

However, deputy prosecutor George Appel said it might make sense for just one judge to handle all the remaining defendants in the case because of its complexity.

Because French stepped aside in the Heather Opel case, Appel suggested that French do the same with her mother so the same new judge could handle both cases. French said he would let the attorneys know his decision in writing next week.

A second 14-year-old girl remains charged with first-degree murder.

Two others, ages 15 and 17, have pleaded guilty, and a 13-year-old boy was found guilty in Snohomish County Juvenile Court.

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man smoked marijuana before crashing into trooper

Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along southbound I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect the driver was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside WSP District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed in a collision on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State trooper killed, 1 arrested in crash on I-5 near Marysville

Authorities said Trooper Chris Gadd had been stopped along the freeway around 3 a.m. near 136th Street NE. A Lynnwood driver, 32, was arrested.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.