Whitney Heichel's family outside the courtroom Monday
GRESHAM, OR (KPTV) -
The man who killed 21-year-old Gresham woman Whitney Heichel pleaded guilty Monday and received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jonathan Holt was arrested and charged with murder for the death of Heichel in October 2012.
He was set to face trial in April 2014 after originally pleading not guilty. Last month, he agreed to change his plea, and on Monday afternoon, he pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder with a firearm, plus additional kidnapping and robbery charges. He told the judge he shot and killed Heichel.
With his head down on a desk, he cried during the sentencing hearing.
Holt has been kept behind bars with no bail since his arrest on Oct. 19, 2012.
The case started on Oct. 16 when Heichel's husband reported her missing after she didn't show up for work at Starbucks.
Police and search crews canvassed the community looking for her. The community generated dozens of tips for police.
Then, during a late night press conference on Oct. 19, Gresham police announced they had found Heichel's body on Larch Mountain and arrested a suspect.
Investigators said Holt admitted to police he waited outside Heichel's apartment and asked her for a ride on Oct. 16.
About five minutes into the ride, Holt told investigators he pulled a gun and forced her to drive to Roslyn Lake in Clackamas County. Once there, deputies said he forced Heichel to perform a sex act on him.
He is then accused of shooting and killing Heichel. Holt told investigators he disposed of his cellular phone at Roslyn Lake after the shooting and took Heichel's body and dumped it on Larch Mountain, detectives said.
Investigators said he then made up a story about being robbed at gunpoint on the way to work as an alibi, before finally confessing, according to court documents.
Holt's wife filed for divorce on the same day he pleaded not guilty in court. A judge finalized the divorce on Dec. 11.
"As far as the sentencing goes, the plea and the sentencing, we are satisfied with it," said Lorilei Ritmiller, Heichel's mother. "Our intent was to protect the community from any other harm being inflicted upon their children, their daughters, their wives."
Heichel's family said they gave the district attorney their blessing to accept a plea deal to avoid suffering through a trial. They also did not want Holt to be at risk for getting the death penalty.
"I don't think it would be good for us to hand a death penalty to him," said Clint Heichel, Whitney Heichel's husband. "According to the judge, if it wasn't for us, that's probably what he would've gotten. But that's left to a higher power and he'll be dealt with in that when the time is right."
Clint Heichel was also among the victim's relatives who addressed Holt in court. Holt hung his head, cried and nodded in agreement with their words.
"What do you say to the person who stole the love of your life?" Clint Heichel said.
Copyright 2013 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
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