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Originally published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Shorter sentence recommended for woman convicted in 2001 murder

A 26-year-old woman convicted of murder in a group attack when she was 14 has won the recommendation of clemency from a state board. Gov. Jay Inslee will make the final decision on whether she will be released early.

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA — Washington state’s clemency board on Friday recommended a shortened sentence for a woman serving 22 years for her role in a deadly group attack on a 64-year-old man that occurred when she was 14.

After a two-hour hearing that was packed with family members and supporters of Marriam Oliver, the state’s Clemency and Pardon’s Board unanimously voted that Oliver, now 26, should be released in three years, as long as she doesn’t have any infractions on her prison record during that time. The recommendation now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will get the final say. There is no time frame on when Inslee may make a decision on the case.

Oliver was one of five teens and an adult, Barbara Marie Opel, then 38, who either pleaded guilty or were convicted in the 2001 beating and stabbing death of Jerry Dean Heimann at his Everett home. Oliver, who was tried as an adult, received the lower end of the sentencing range for first-degree murder.

Oliver, who testified before the four-member board by telephone, cried and had to pause frequently as she recounted the crime.

“It is something that I will live for the rest of my life, that I took the life of a man, a father, a grandfather and friend,” she said.

She said she first tried to run away from the assault but was coerced by Barbara Opel to return, and sobbed as she recounted for the board that she then hit Heimann over the head with a bat.

“I remember sitting in county jail ashamed of myself,” she said. “That wasn’t me.”

Oliver testified that she has participated in several educational and volunteer programs in prison, currently works as a Braille translator, and said she uses her story to try and help others.

“Today, I have a deeper understanding of not just my life, but human life,” she said.

Prosecutors said Opel was hired by Heimann as a caregiver to his elderly mother who had Alzheimer’s disease. Opel recruited her own 13-year-old daughter and other teens to kill him so she could get control of his bank account.

Several people, including those who worked with Oliver at the juvenile-rehabilitation center she first served at, spoke of how her personality in prison countered that of the girl who was recruited by Barbara Opel.

“She is truly remorseful,” said Danna Colingham, who was a volunteer at Echo Glen Children’s Center who had worked on some humanitarian projects with Oliver, like making socks and quilts to send to orphans in South America. “She was a little girl coerced by someone to do something that was not in her nature.”

However, in a written statement submitted to the board, Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe called Oliver a “willing participant in a murder for hire.”

He noted that the remaining 10 years that Oliver currently has to serve “is not an excessive sentence for such a brutal crime” and wrote that a reduction of her sentence was not warranted.

Members of the board expressed concern about the brutality of the crime, as well as some infractions that Oliver had received while in prison in recent years, including a situation where she yelled at a guard and another where she was penalized for a fight that she insisted was just her trying to separate an altercation between other prisoners.

“You’re a model prisoner, and then all of a sudden you’re doing all this,” said board member Raul Almeida.

“I understand that’s what’s in front of you, and how it looks, but that’s not the whole entire picture or a reflection of me, it honestly isn’t,” she responded.

Oliver’s attorney, Jennifer Stutzer, hugged Oliver’s sister and others after the board made its recommendation, contingent on her having no more infractions between now and her release.

“She has earned this,” Stutzer said.

Barbara Opel was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole. Her daughter, Heather, is serving a 22-year sentence. Heather Opel’s boyfriend, Jeff Grote, was 17 at the time of the crime and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Heimann’s death. He is serving a 50-year sentence. Kyle Boston, 14 at the time of the slaying, was sentenced to 18 years behind bars after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Boston’s cousin from Marysville, then 13, was convicted of first-and second-degree murder in juvenile court in 2001 and has since been released. In Washington, youths sentenced in juvenile court cannot be imprisoned past the age of 21.

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