MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case has entered a not guilty plea to 25 counts of child pornography.
Investigators arrested Danny Heinrich in October of 2015. Court documents made public at the time revealed that Heinrich was one of the earliest suspects in the Wetterling case.
They also revealed Heinrich as a suspect in a string of unsolved attacks in Paynesville in the mid-1980s.
Even more significantly, new testing found Heinrich’s DNA matched DNA found in the kidnapping and sexual assault case of another young boy in 1989.
At the hearing, Danny Heinrich was asked his name and how to spell it. He answered in a deep, strong voice that could be heard throughout the courtroom. Through his attorneys, he entered not guilty pleas to 25 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography.
Criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who has reviewed documents in the case, said Heinrich’s defense will face an uphill battle because Heinrich admitted to investigators last July that he possessed child porn. He also told them he was “addicted,” and that he was a “dirty old man,” Tamburino said.
“The government’s case is extremely strong,” Tamburino said. “Some of the best evidence that you could ever use against a defendant is a defendant’s own words.”
“This is very damning evidence,” he added.
Last summer, new DNA testing matched Heinrich to the January 1989 abduction and sexual assault of then 12-year-old Jared Scheierl. Despite the DNA match, Heinrich will not be prosecuted in Scheierl’s case because the statute of limitation has expired.
On WCCO Sunday Morning, Scheierl expressed his frustration and his hope that other victims, including the Wetterlings, can someday get answers.
“Although I can’t prosecute Danny Heinrich, I feel like there’s a lot of other victims that haven’t received answers as well,” Scheierl said.
After his October arrest, prosecutors said Heinrich has continued to deny involvement in Wetterling’s case.
Investigators are continuing to search for evidence in Wetterling’s case and in those unsolved Paynesville cases.
What is not clear is if those answers will ever come from Heinrich. If convicted on the pornography counts, he is facing decades behind bars. His trial is set for this summer.