Woman who was 14 when she helped kill a man is denied clemency

OLYMPIA — A woman, who at 14 took part in a murder-for-hire plot in Everett, failed to convince the state’s Clemency and Pardon Board that she should go free.

The board, in a 3-1 vote last week, declined to recommend that Gov. Jay Inslee commute the rest of Marriam Oliver’s 22-year prison sentence.

Oliver’s supporters, including her wife and numerous retired teachers and staff from Echo Glen Juvenile Detention Center, testified and wrote letters supporting Oliver’s release. They pointed to her young age at the time of the crime and the steps she’s taken since to better herself. Oliver has served about 14 years of her sentence.

An emotional Oliver spoke to the board Thursday from the Washington Corrections Center for Women. The 29-year-old asked for “unmerited grace,” and said she hoped her positive actions in prison are proof that she’s trying to make amends for taking a human life when she was a kid.

“It is only through my actions that I can seek forgiveness from you,” she said.

Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe spoke out against Oliver’s release, as did the victim’s family. Roe told the board that Oliver was already shown leniency when his office didn’t charge her with aggravated murder and when the judge sentenced her to the statutory minimum for the premeditated slaying.

Oliver was part of a band of teenagers hired by Barbara Opel to kill Jerry Heimann, 64. The Everett man had employed Opel to care for his elderly and ailing mother. Prosecutors alleged that Opel was after Heimann’s money. She promised five young people, including her then-13-year-old daughter, money and electronics in exchange for ambushing her boss. Oliver and Heather Opel, who were best friends, were both convicted as adults of first-degree murder for the 2001 killing. Heather Opel also was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Barbara Opel, but jurors chose to spare her life. She is serving a life sentence.

Oliver successfully persuaded the state’s Clemency and Pardon Board in 2013 to recommend Inslee commute her sentence. However, the governor denied Oliver’s petition, noting serious concerns with her behavior in prison and her numerous infractions.

The board last week was not convinced that Oliver deserved a break. Two new members were appointed to the panel since Oliver’s last petition for clemency.

“This was a horrific crime,” Vice Chairman James McDevitt said. “She has not paid her debt to society from the standpoint of a minimum sentence.”

He was particularly struck that Oliver and the crew had attempted to kill Heimann twice before carrying out the murder. They bludgeoned and stabbed Heimann in front of his mother, who was helpless to stop the violence. The woman, who was left to die, was found in her feces-covered wheelchair, eating newspaper.

Oliver described to the board in some detail how she participated in the killing, presumably to persuade the panelists that she isn’t dodging or downplaying her culpability.

“He looked at me straight in my eyes and begged me to help him. All I could do was drop the knife and run and not get him help either,” Oliver said.

She later told the board that she swung a bat, crushing Heimann’s skull.

Heimann’s daughter noted in her comments to the board that Oliver seemed to make light of her crime just last year during a TEDx talk she gave about prison-based job training programs. Oliver never mentioned the murder and instead joked that she was having a bad hair day when her prison mugshot flashed on the screen.

Jennifer Rancourt, an attorney with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association and board chairwoman, was the sole vote in favor of clemency. She said she was persuaded in part because of all the support from staff with the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.

Former Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Charles French declined to keep the case in juvenile court in part because he didn’t believe Oliver could be rehabilitated as a juvenile, Rancourt said.

“I think he was just wrong,” she said.

Inslee isn’t bound to follow the board’s recommendation or take any action on Oliver’s petition. Under a new law, Oliver also can ask the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for early release once she’s served 20 years.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley.

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