Teen testifies Opel set up killing, shamed her for trying to back out

EVERETT — When Marriam Oliver saw her teenage friends pounce on 64-year-old Jerry Heimann with bats and knives, her first reaction was to drop her knife and sprint downstairs.

As Oliver, 15, threw her belongings in a bag and climbed out of a ground-floor window, Barbara Opel screamed at her to return upstairs and help kill Heimann, Oliver testified yesterday in court.

Opel accused Oliver of being a terrible best friend to her 13-year-old daughter, Heather Opel, who was taking part in the brutal attack upstairs. Oliver then returned upstairs, grabbed a baseball bat and clubbed Heimann on the head.

Moments later, Heimann lay dead on the kitchen floor of his home.

During nearly four hours of testimony in Snohomish County Superior Court, Oliver said Opel formulated the plan in which the group of teens would wait for Heimann to return to his Everett home and then "kill Jerry Heimann using knives and bats."

Opel is on trial for allegedly bribing the teens to kill Heimann in April 2001 in exchange for cash and gifts. If convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, Opel could become the first woman on Washington state's death row.

All five of the teens, including Heather Opel and Oliver, have been convicted of participating in the slaying. Oliver agreed to testify against Opel in exchange for a guarantee that she would spend only 22 years in prison for the murder.

Oliver described Opel as a buddy to all of Heather's friends. Opel hung out with them at a local skating rink, joined them at movies, took them out to eat, walked around the mall with them and talked to Oliver on the phone every day.

Heather's friends even called Opel "Mom."

So none of the teens objected when Opel suggested in March 2001 that they kill Heimann, a retired Boeing worker who employed Opel as a live-in caretaker for his elderly mother. Opel wanted the $38,000 she believed Heimann had in a bank account.

On the night of April 13, 2001, Heimann was ambushed after he walked into his house. As his 89-year-old mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, watched from her wheelchair, Heimann was beaten with baseball bats and fists, and stabbed and slashed with kitchen knives.

Defense attorney Pete Mazzone insisted that Heather Opel's then-17-year-old boyfriend, Jeffrey Grote, planned the murder. Grote is among those convicted in the slaying.

Speaking in a quiet voice and frequently yawning, Oliver said yesterday that when she questioned Barbara Opel about the murder plan on the day of Heimann's death, Opel told her that if they were caught they were to blame Grote.

Mazzone warned jurors Thursday that Oliver often lies to save herself from trouble. He said yesterday that Oliver was cooperating with the prosecution in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Mazzone is expected to finish his cross-examination of Oliver on Monday.

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com