EVERETT — Another teen convicted of murder in the 2001 killing of Jerry Heimann will get out early.
The state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board ruled this month that Jeffrey Grote can be released almost three decades early. He was 17 when he participated in Heimann’s killing and was sentenced to 50 years.
Grote, now 38, isn’t the first teen convicted in Heimann’s slaying in Everett to get an early release. Last year, Marriam Oliver, who was 14 at the time of the killing, had her 22-year prison term reduced to 20. She was released in October.
And earlier this month, Heather Opel, who was 13 at the time, got the same treatment. Heimann’s family was opposed to this move.
Heimann, 64, had hired Heather’s mother, Barbara, as a live-in caregiver for his mother at their home in the 3700 block of 22nd Street in Everett. She wanted to kill Heimann, who had terminal cancer, and steal tens of thousands of dollars from him. So she hired a group of young people, including Heather, to do it.
Heather Opel and Grote were dating. He told the board he was searching for belonging at this time. He had felt his mother abandoned him. The Opels made Grote feel like he belonged.
Within three days of knowing the family, Barbara Opel brought up the murder plot, Grote told the review board. He said he wanted to back out, but Barbara Opel threatened him. He was to be rewarded with cash and a car in exchange for helping kill Heimann.
The young people ambushed Heimann at the home on April 13, 2001, according to court records. They hit him with baseball bats and stabbed him. From the basement, Barbara Opel, 37, yelled encouragingly.
Heather Opel’s other siblings, 7 and 11, were enlisted to help clean up. The group took Heimann’s body to the Tulalip Reservation. Meanwhile, Heimann’s mother was neglected and later found dehydrated with blood splattered on her wheelchair.
Grote told the board what he did to Heimann was “extremely terrible.”
During court proceedings in 2001, Grote said watching Heimann die made him physically ill, The Daily Herald reported at the time.
“You were upset?” the deputy prosecutor asked.
“No,” Grote responded. “Just sick to my stomach.”
One by one, the teens and the plotter were convicted and sentenced.
Barbara Opel got life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but jurors spared her life.
Grote received the next longest sentence when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He could’ve faced life without parole if he didn’t plead guilty and agree to the exceptional sentence that was roughly double the standard punishment. He had no previous felony or misdemeanor convictions.
The other teens got 22 years or less. Grote has now served almost 21 years.
In his time in prison, he has garnered few infractions and participated in several programs, including one titled Alternatives to Violence and educational classes from University Behind Bars. In 2016, Grote received his associate’s degree.
A 2014 change in state law opened the door for Grote to get out. The statute allows people who received lengthy sentences as juveniles in adult court to petition the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for a hearing after serving at least 20 years, among other requirements.
It is part of a part of a broader reform movement to give more leniency in sentencing for younger people whose brains are still developing. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” In recent months, several men convicted in early adulthood for Snohomish County murders have had their life sentences reduced.
After a review hearing last month, the board found he was a low risk to commit more crimes if released with conditions, paving the way for his imminent freedom.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell pushed for the resentencings of Oliver and Heather Opel. But he disagreed with the board’s decision for Grote, arguing he had a “higher level of culpability.”
“To me, it doesn’t sit right,” he said in an interview, adding that such strong reductions in a sentence can be “incredibly frustrating, disappointing (and) destabilizing” for the victim’s family.
Grote will now work with a counselor to develop a release plan. It will then be sent to the board for approval. It can take over two months to finally get out of prison. After that, he’ll be under Department of Corrections supervision for three years.
Coming out, Grote plans to live with his sister in Snohomish County and work as a landscaper with Housing Hope. He wants to save money, buy a house, build a family, get a bachelor’s degree and help local kids.