Why Snohomish County’s youthful murderers are being resentenced

A roundup of our coverage: A reform movement and court decisions have led to more leniency for young adults.

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A state Supreme Court ruling last year opened the door for thousands of resentencings in Washington. The state’s highest court ruled that judges must consider the age of defendants in deciding their punishment.

It is part of a broader reform movement to give more leniency in sentencing for younger adults, whose brains are still developing.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.”

Then, in Washington, the state Supreme Court’s 2021 Monschke decision extended that thinking to 18-, 19- and 20-year-old defendants. The 5-4 decision is named for Kurtis Monschke, who was 19 in 2003 when he was one of a few white supremacists who killed a homeless man in Tacoma.

Several people incarcerated for crimes in Snohomish County have recently received reduced sentences as a result of the new age-related guideline. Herald reporters have covered these cases. Here’s a roundup of their stories:

Aaron Howerton

Aaron Howerton in (top, from left) 2001, 2005, 2008 and (bottom) 2012, 2018 and 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Aaron Howerton in (top, from left) 2001, 2005, 2008 and (bottom) 2012, 2018 and 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Aaron Howerton, of Monroe, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering Wilder Eby in 1994. Howerton was 18. Eby, of Mount Vernon, was 21.

Noting Howerton appeared to be a “changed man,” Superior Court Judge Anna Alexander in January resentenced Howerton to 27 years.

The defendant has already served that time, meaning he will soon be released.

[Sentenced to life as a teen, Monroe prisoner to be released]

Arthur Longworth

Prison photos of Arthur Longworth from 1998 through 2021. He was originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 1986, when he was 21 years old. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Prison photos of Arthur Longworth from 1998 through 2021. He was originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 1986, when he was 21 years old. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Arthur Longworth was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1986 for killing Cynthia Nelson in a Seattle robbery plot and dumping her body in Snohomish County. She was 25. Longworth was 20.

There were hours of testimony stretching over two days in February by the victim’s family, a psychologist, people incarcerated with Longworth, a former state representative, a sitting state cabinet secretary and the defendant himself. In the end, Longworth’s sentence was reduced to 30 years.

And since he has already served years more than that, he’ll soon be out of prison. He’s now 57.

[From a life sentence for a 1985 murder to imminent freedom]

Eric Krueger

Eric Krueger in March 1998 (left) and February 2015. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Eric Krueger in March 1998 (left) and February 2015. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Eric Krueger, of Seattle, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1997 fatal shooting of Ronald Greenwood and Brady Brown. Both victims were 24 and from Everett.

Krueger was 20 at the time of the shooting. He’s now 46.

In March, Superior Court Judge Karen Moore resentenced Krueger to 40 total years in prison, with credit for the 25 years he has already served.

[Court ruling leads to a shorter sentence for 1997 murders]

Heather Opel

Heather Opel in 2002 and 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Heather Opel in 2002 and 2021. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Barbara Opel hired a group of teenagers, including her 13-year-old child, Heather, to kill Jerry Heimann, 64, of Everett.

The young people ambushed Heimann at a home on April 13, 2001, and beat and stabbed him to death.

Heather Opel was sentenced to 22 years in prison for their involvement. Opel was to get out in April 2023 but will now be released a little early.

On April 1, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Edirin Okoloko reduced Opel’s sentence to 20 years.

[A 2001 killer, then 13, will be released from prison early]

Jeffrey Grote

Jeffrey Grote in 2003 (left) and 2022. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Jeffrey Grote in 2003 (left) and 2022. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Jeffrey Grote was another teen convicted of murder in the 2001 killing of Heimann.

The state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board ruled this month that Grote can be released almost three decades early. He was 17 when he participated in Heimann’s killing and was sentenced to 50 years.

Grote, now 38, will work with a counselor to develop a release plan. It will then be sent to the board for approval. It could take over two months for him to get out of prison.

[Sentenced to 50 years in Everett slaying, he’ll get out after 21]

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