Young killer sentenced to 22 years

EVERETT – Unlike many girls her age, Heather Opel has a good idea what she’ll be doing on April 24, 2023.

That’s the day the 14-year-old Everett girl, a convicted murderer, is supposed to get out of prison.

Opel was sentenced Friday to 22 years behind bars for her role in the April 2001 stabbing and beating death of her mother’s boss, Jerry Heimann, 64.

Under state guidelines, Opel can receive no good time reduction in her sentence. Unless she manages to overturn a court’s earlier ruling that she be treated as an adult, the teen will remain locked up until she turns 35 – first in a juvenile prison and later in the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Purdy.

“I want to say sorry to Mr. Heimann’s family, and I really hope you guys accept my apology. And if you don’t, I understand why,” the thin, pale-skinned girl said before Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese imposed sentence.

Heimann’s family was clearly disappointed that the punishment wasn’t longer.

“Heather Opel says that she deserves a chance at a future. I ask why?’ Why does she deserve a future?” Heimann’s daughter, Colleen Muller, asked in a letter she read to the judge. ” She took a man’s life, she left his mother to die of starvation, and she apparently had no qualms about doing so.”

Opel was one of five teens who admitted being involved in Heimann’s murder. All have been convicted. The only remaining unresolved case is against Heather Opel’s mother, Barbara. Prosecutors allege Barbara Opel, 39, hatched the plot to kill Heimann to get at about $40,000 of his money. They also allege she recruited the teens, including her own daughter, to execute the plan.

Barbara Opel’s aggravated murder trial is scheduled for February. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Deputy prosecutors Chris Dickinson and George Appel declined to discuss Barbara Opel’s case.

Under state sentencing guidelines, Heather Opel faced a maximum punishment of roughly 28 years. Prosecutors sought 241/2 years. Dickinson cited the brutality and “the cold, calculated way it was carried out” as grounds for stiff punishment.

Evidence showed that Heimann was set upon by the teens as he walked through the front door of his home. He was clubbed to the ground with baseball bats and repeatedly stabbed.

The man’s 89-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, was in the same room when the attack occurred. She was left at the death scene seated in a blood-spattered wheelchair for several days without food or water before the killing was discovered.

After the hearing, Dickinson said he found it comforting that Heather Opel will be locked up for her teens and 20s, statistically the most crime-prone years. He called the case the “most unusual, mind-boggling” prosecution he has encountered.

Heather Opel’s attorney, David Roberson of Seattle, said his client deserved leniency from the court because she never had a chance growing up with a mother like Barbara Opel.

The record is clear the girl was thriving in school and sports, despite obstacles related to chaotic, abusive parenting, he said. Child Protective Services workers repeatedly investigated the Opels after reports of neglect and domestic violence. The family moved 22 times in seven years, according to court records.

Roberson accused prosecutors of exercising a double standard in the case, seeking the death penalty for Barbara Opel because she allegedly encouraged her own daughter to kill, while at the same time punishing the daughter for not having the ability to refuse her parent.

Krese said she was troubled on many levels by the case, and found it “almost inconceivable” that a parent could mislead a child as completely as Barbara Opel allegedly did her own daughter.

But that doesn’t excuse Heather Opel from her actions, the judge said.

“She was at least old enough to know this was a crime,” Krese said.

She sentenced the teen to 20 years in prison for the murder plus an additional two years for using a knife in the killing. The length and nature of the sentences allow for no reduction for good conduct behind bars.

Prosecutors said that means Opel will face exactly 22 years in prison from the day she was first booked for the murder. Everett police records show that was April 24, 2001.

Krese told Opel that she took her age into account in fashioning the punishment, and that if she had been older, the sentence likely would have been longer.

She told the teen to use her time in prison preparing herself for a productive life after her release.

“I plan on having a future,” Opel said.

Other defendants

Here is what has happened to the other defendants charged in the April 2001 murder of Jerry Heimann:

  • Barbara Opel, 39, faces a February aggravated murder trial. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
  • Marriam D. Oliver, 15, of Everett was sentenced in April to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of first-degree murder. A court ruled her case should be handled in adult court.
  • Kyle Boston, 15, of Arlington pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder. He has agreed to testify against Barbara Opel, and faces anywhere from 10 years to 18 years in prison. A court ruled his case should be handled in adult court.
  • Boston’s cousin, a 13-year-old Marysville boy, was convicted in December of first-degree murder. His case remained in juvenile court, and he could be locked up in a juvenile prison until he’s 21.
  • Jeff Grote, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. A sentence of 50 years in prison was recommended. He has agreed to testify against Barbara Opel.

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