By Scott North
The talk in the courtroom Thursday was of murder, but the bored fidgeting of the young defendants was more like something out of a middle-school math class.
Two boys and two girls — ages 13 and 14 — sat in the juvenile division of Snohomish County Superior Court and listened as an alleged accomplice testified how they all participated in the April 13 beating death of an Everett man.
Jeff Grote, 17, told how he and the others wound up killing Jerry Heimann, 64, at the urging of Barbara Opel, 38, his former girlfriend’s mother.
"I waited until Jerry got into the house, got behind him and hit him in the head" with an aluminum baseball bat, Grote said.
When the bat struck, it "made a tinging sound," he testified.
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, and allegedly recruited the teens to kill her boss so she could steal $40,000 from his bank accounts.
Grote pleaded guilty early this month 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.
Prosecutors have asked Judge Charles French to order the other teen-age defendants into adult court as well.
Everett defense attorney Stephen Garvey represents one of the boys, who turned 13 two weeks before the murder. Prior to his arrest, he was a student at Cedarcrest School in Marysville. Court papers indicate he weighed 90 pounds when taken into custody.
On Thursday, the boy sat in stocking feet during the hearing, his ankles shackled. At times he chewed on his lips and stared around the room.
The hearings are expected to last several weeks. Garvey said the issues before the judge really come down to two questions: Does the public need to be protected from the teens long-term, and can these kids be saved?
He and the other defense lawyers plan to present evidence about what likely will happen to the young people if they are placed in an adult prison and given long sentences and limited rehabilitation.
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.
"They were not sophisticated, scheming criminally-minded adults," Garvey said. "These are all kids with an amazing lack of sophistication."
The lack of planning that went into Heimann’s killing was clear from Grote’s testimony.
He met Opel just days before the killing after he began dating her daughter, 13, who also is one of the defendants.
Opel let him begin living at her home and sleep with her daughter after the young couple’s first date, Grote testified. He first heard about plans to kill Heimann about three days after he met the family.
It wasn’t long before Opel began involving him in the effort, Grote said. He contacted Garvey’s client and another boy, and they ultimately agreed to beat, but not kill, Heimann for $250.
Grote said Opel recruited one of her daughter’s friends, a 14-year-old Everett girl, to fatally stab Heimann in exchange for money to go roller skating.
On the day of the killing, Grote said he drove to pick up the boys he had recruited. En route to the killing scene, one asked to be taken by his soccer coach’s house so he could drop off a check to pay for his uniform.
At the Heimann home, Opel described her plan for the attack, dividing tasks between the young people and directing them where to hide, Grote testified.
Grote said he struck the first blow when Heimann came home. The other boys joined in, but ran away after delivering a handful of blows with miniature souvenir Mariners baseball bats.
Grote said he eventually knocked Heimann unconscious. That’s when Opel’s daughter took up the aluminum bat and began pounding the man on the back of the head. She also stabbed him in the back, he alleged.
Grote said he checked Heimann for a pulse and found none, believing the man was dead. That’s when the girl recruited by Opel grabbed the knife and began stabbing Heimann, Grote said. She also "took a full chop to his head" with the bat, opening his skull.
Heimann’s body was dumped on the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville, where Grote poured acid on the remains a few days later in an attempt to obscure the victim’s identity.
At one point Thursday, Grote said watching Heimann die had made him physically ill.
"You were upset?" deputy prosecutor Chris Dickinson asked.
"No," Grote said. "Just sick to my stomach."
You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431
or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.