Teens 13 and 14 may face murder trial as adults

By Scott North

Herald Writer

If Snohomish County prosecutors have it right, the killers spent days hatching their plan. When the time came, they gathered in the victim’s Everett home and armed themselves with baseball bats and kitchen knives. One encouraged the others not to "chicken out."

When it was over on April 13, Jerry Heimann, 64, was dead, his body pummeled, stabbed and slashed in nearly 50 places.

Prosecutors allege the carnage was the work of six people, four of them in their early teens.

Hearings were scheduled to begin today in the juvenile division of Snohomish County Superior Court to determine whether those teens — two boys and two girls ages 13 and 14 — should face adult justice. All attended middle schools in Everett and Marysville before the killing earlier this year. None had been in serious trouble before.

Each is charged with first-degree murder, and all have pleaded innocent.

Judge Charles French’s decision on where to try the cases may have a profound impact.

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

Heimann’s death was an "extraordinarily brutal, cruel and inhuman" killing, deputy prosecutor George Appel said in a 28-page brief outlining the state’s case.

Among other things, Appel cited witness statements alleging that most of the teens bragged about their actions, and how one girl allegedly even said killing Heimann was "fun" and she hoped to do something similar again someday.

Heimann was a well-liked retired aerospace worker who at one time had also run a tavern. Prosecutors allege his killing was arranged by Barbara Marie Opel, 38, a woman he had hired as the live-in caregiver for his 89-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Opel believed she could steal roughly $40,000 from her boss, and offered the young people, one of whom is her daughter, $300 each to take the man’s life, prosecutors allege.

Opel is charged with aggravated first-degree murder. Prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty at her trial, scheduled for May.

Another defendant, Jeff Grote, 17, pleaded guilty early this month to first-degree murder and has agreed to a 50-year sentence. His case was automatically moved to adult court because of his age and the seriousness of the charge.

In keeping with his plea agreement, Grote is expected to testify against his co-defendants, deputy prosecutor Chis Dickinson said. That could happen as early as Thursday.

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

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

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