Public memorial for Whitney: 'She was just a ray of sunshine'

GRESHAM, Ore. - A community came together in Gresham on Friday to meet the family of a young woman who was murdered and to offer their condolences.

A public celebration of 21-year-old Whitney Heichel's life was held Friday at the Salquist Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and by late afternoon, there was a long line of people out the door.

Heichel's family greeted all of those who stopped by and thanked them for their support during such a difficult time. The family said they wanted to hold a public memorial so the community would have a chance to grieve. Local businesses stepped up to help out by donating food and other things for the event.

"I know I won't be able to say thank you to every single person, but I'm going to try my best because they deserve a thanks," said Clint Heichel, Whitney's husband. "And that's why we have everyone here - to thank the community and give the community a hug, because they need that."

Heichel said his wife would have been humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from everyone.

"She would be so pleased," he said. "She loved people. She was just a ray of sunshine and, like I said, she was just smiling all the time."

As far as how he is handling everything, it's obviously been tough.

"I'm trying to take it one day at a time, but it's very hard because we were very much in love," Heichel said. "It's very hard for me to be at my apartment and have her not doing her little thing."

Whitney's mother, Lorilei Ritmiller, wrote a letter thanking the public for all they have done for her and her family. She wrote, in part:

"This mother does not have the words to express the gratitude she has for the millions of prayers that have flowed to Jehovah for my family nor the countless tears that have fallen for the sorrow that visited our lives. And while many of you have not been able to be present with us in a literal sense, I have known you were there with every breath that I have taken."

Ritmiller said this has been the worst of her life's tribulations but she also wrote (in reference to the Jehovah's Witness religion, which she and her family are members of):

"Don't be overcome with grief. As difficult as this has been, a tremendous opportunity has opened up because people in communities around the Earth have opened their hearts wide to learning more about us as a people and the God whose name we carry."

And she went on to say:

"Hugs do travel through the air on wings of angels and although there was a horrific hole cut from my heart, I have been squeezed so tightly with your love that it has already closed enough to let me breathe."

Amanda Holt thanks community for its support

Meanwhile, the wife of Jonathan Holt, who is the man accused of killing Heichel, thanked the community Friday night for its support through Jim Vaughn, who has been a spokesman for the families.

"Amanda wanted to express her gratitude to the community for its support of her - beyond just those in the church family," Vaughn said.

He cited two examples. Her apartment complex is letting her out of her lease early so she can move and, after a new job that did not work out, her original employers rehired her.

"She's being cared for as much as Clint and just wants people to know how grateful she is for the help," Vaughn said.

On a side note, when Whitney first disappeared, a Find Whitney Heichel Facebook page was created for the community, which remains active. And on Twitter, folks are using the hashtag #WhitneyHeichel.

More Charges Levied Against Whitney's Accused Killer

The man accused of killing Heichel, 25-year-old Jonathan Holt (pictured at right), remains on suicide watch at the Clackamas County Jail. He is being held without bail.

Holt appeared in court Friday afternoon and now has 10 counts against him - six counts of aggravated murder with a firearm, one count of first-degree kidnapping, one county of first-degree sodomy and two counts of first-degree robbery. Previously, he had only been charged with aggravated murder.

Holt did not say much during his court appearance - just the word "yes" when he confirmed that it was his birthday two days ago.

A trial date for Holt is scheduled for Dec. 14. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

As far as the county where Holt is facing prosecution, it is significant that it is happening in Clackamas County, where the murder occurred and the body was found, instead of Multnomah County, where the kidnapping took place.

Prosecutors tell KATU that they believe it is far easier to get a jury in Clackamas County to hand down the death penalty than it is to get a jury in Multnomah County to do so. That's because Clackamas County is more conservative, while Multnomah County is more liberal.

Holt did confess to the crime so wouldn't this be an open and shut case?

Not necessarily.

You see, there is a tenet in the American justice system that you cannot be convicted on your confession alone. The idea is that it keeps people from confessing to crimes they did not commit or keeps someone from taking credit for a crime, perhaps to save a family member from being locked up. So there has to be evidence to convict a person of a crime besides their confession.

Also, history seems to show that if you confess and take ownership for what you have done, that does not really help you when it comes to sentencing.