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Whitney Heichel's family confront Gresham woman's killer, sentenced to life in prison
When it came time for Clinton Heichel to address the man who murdered his wife, he sat silently staring at the killer, Jonathan Daniel Holt, for a long minute.
Holt had just admitted kidnapping and shooting 21-year-old Whitney Heichel of Gresham and was sentenced to spend his life in prison with no possibility of parole.
More Continuing coverage of Whitney Heichel, 21, of Gresham, who was reported missing after she failed to show up for work.
"What do you say to the man who has taken the love of your life?" Clinton Heichel asked. "My life has been ripped apart and turned upside down," because of your selfishness. "But know this: I will see her again," said Heichel, a devout Jehovah's Witness.
More than 60 members of Whitney Heichel's family and church attended Holt's sentencing Monday before Clackamas County Presiding Judge Robert Herndon. Holt pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery.
The shaggy-haired Holt, flanked by his two defense attorneys, sat with his head bowed, through almost all of the 50-minute hearing.
Holt sobbed as the victim's mother, sister and mother-in-law told him how his actions had affected them. But his tears flowed most freely when Clinton Heichel spoke.
During the silence, Holt lifted his head three times, locked eyes with Heichel then dropped his head. "I wanted him to look me in the eye before I said anything. A man should be owning up to the things that he's done. You should be able to look a man in the eye. It's about as simple as that," Heichel said outside the courthouse.
Before the family made their statements, there was a brief recounting of the events that led to the life sentence.
Holt left no doubt that he killed Heichel. He confessed three days after the Oct. 16 murder and led police to her body. Holt told investigators that he waited for Whitney Heichel outside her residence at the Heatherwood Apartments in Gresham, where they both lived. They also were members of the same Jehovah's Witnesses congregation.
As Whitney Heichel was leaving for work, Holt asked her for a ride. About five minutes into the ride, he pulled a gun and ordered Heichel to drive to Roslyn Lake in Clackamas County, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. He then shot her four times, killing her. Afterward, he concealed the body on Larch Mountain.
Heichel family members noted that Holt's family, including his ex-wife, who divorced him immediately after his arrest, also suffered . "Both families were forced to face the unthinkable," said Lora-lei Ritmiller, Whitney Heichel's mother
Ritmiller and other relatives recounted the pain and devastation of their loss, making frequent references to their faith and the belief that Jehovah would be Holt's ultimate judge. In a statement laced with Biblical references, Ritmiller said Satan was an invisible force behind such heinous acts and that Holt was "eager to be his puppet."
Chelsea Sauer, Whitney Heichel's sister berated Holt, calling him a coward, a liar, a thief, a pervert and a murderer. "We know what you are, the congregation knows what you are and Jehovah knows," Sauer said.
Holt made a short statement, saying he deserved whatever sentence was imposed on him. "All the things that were said about me are true. Because of my selfishness, I have stolen a daughter, a sister and wife," Holt said, speaking meekly and staring down. "I'm sorry for what I did."
Herndon acknowledged Holt's obvious emotional distress and commended him for taking responsibility, admitting his guilt and "not torturing your victim's family for months and months" making them await a trial scheduled for early next year.
"We got what we wanted," said Clackamas County prosecutor Steven Mygrant. "He'll be locked up for the rest of his life."
-- Steve Mayes