Witness details teen plot to kill

By Scott North

Herald Writer

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 north@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

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Lynnwood woman sentenced for stabbing Bellingham woman while she slept

Johanna Paola Nonog, 23, was sentenced last week to nine years in prison for the July 2022 stabbing of a woman she’d recently met.

Granite Falls
Man presumed dead after fall into river near Granite Falls

Around 5 p.m. Sunday, the man fell off smooth rocks into the Stillaguamish River. Authorities searched for his body Monday.

Pilot found dead near Snoqualmie Pass after Arlington flight

Jerry Riedinger’s wife reported he never made it to his destination Sunday evening. Wreckage of his plane was found Monday afternoon.

Firefighters respond to a fire on Saturday morning in Lake Stevens. (Photo provided by Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
1 woman dead in house fire east of Lake Stevens

Firefighters responded to find a house “fully engulfed in flames” in the 600 block of Carlson Road early Saturday.

YMCA swim instructor Olivia Beatty smiles as Claire Lawson, 4, successfully swims on her own to the wall during Swim-a-palooza, a free swim lesson session, at Mill Creek Family YMCA on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Splish splash! YMCA hosts free swim lessons around Snohomish County

The Y is building a “whole community” of water safety. On Saturday, kids got to dip their toes in the water as the first step on that journey.

2 injured in Bothell Everett Highway crash

The highway was briefly reduced to one northbound lane while police investigated the three-car crash Saturday afternoon.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
On I-5 in Everett, traffic nightmare is reminder we’re ‘very vulnerable’

After a police shooting shut down the freeway, commutes turned into all-night affairs. It was just a hint of what could be in a widespread disaster.

The Eternal Flame monument burns in the center of the Snohomish County Campus on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Elected officials to get 10% pay bump, or more, in Snohomish County

Sheriff Susanna Johnson will see the highest raise, because she was paid less than 10 of her own staff members.

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge reduces bail for driver accused of killing Marysville trooper

After hearing from Raul Benitez Santana’s family, a judge decreased bail to $100,000. A deputy prosecutor said he was “very disappointed.”

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.