MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In a federal courthouse in Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon, Danny Heinrich finally admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Prosecutors say Heinrich’s confession was part of a carefully orchestrated plea deal, involving officials from the county, state and federal level.
It was a deal that wasn’t finalized until the moment Heinrich signed it in federal court Tuesday afternoon. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said he and other officials were worried that Heinrich would back out of the deal before that court hearing.
“From everything we knew, Heinrich was a volatile and unpredictable man who could want to talk one minute and clam up the next,” Luger said. “Danny Heinrich was willing to talk, and we had to grab the moment.”
Ultimately, the prosecution and defense teams reached an agreement: Heinrich would confess to the kidnapping, murder and sexual assault of Jacob Wetterling and lead authorities to the boy’s final resting place, and the prosecution would waive their right to charge Heinrich with the murder, which has no statute of limitations.
Heinrich’s pending case of 25 counts of child pornography would also drop to one count of receipt of child pornography, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years. Authorities did, however, reserve the right to place Heinrich in a civil sex offender program after his criminal sentence. That means he could spend the rest of his life in custody.
As part of the plea deal, Heinrich also confessed to the sexual assault of another young boy in Cold Spring — Jared Scheierl — that happened several months before Wetterling’s abduction. DNA testing previously connected Heinrich with the crime, and led investigators to discover hundreds of pieces of child pornography at Heinrich’s Annandale home.
As Scheierl survived the attack and kidnapping, the statute of limitations expired and prosecutors couldn’t charge Heinrich with the crime.
Heinrich did not, however, confess to a string of sexual assaults in the Paynesville area around the time of Wetterling and Scheierl’s kidnapping. Authorities said in the past they believed the cases were connected.
Luger said the Wetterling family and Scheierl were part of the ongoing plea deal negotiations.
In court, the judge recommended Heinrich serve the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. For federal crimes, like child pornography, there is no possibility of parole.
Heinrich’s official sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. in federal court.
U.S. Attorney’s Full Statement