MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There was a major development Wednesday in the investigation into the unsolved abduction of Jacob Wetterling.
WCCO-TV has learned that the person of interest in the case, Danny Heinrich, is now the target of a civil lawsuit from another boy who was kidnapped in 1989.
The lawsuit accuses Heinrich of sexually assaulting and kidnapping then 12-year-old Jared Scheierl, of Cold Spring, in January of 1989.
In October of last year, federal authorities revealed that Heinrich’s DNA matched evidence found in the Scheierl abduction case.
But Heinrich cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations on the case has run out.
Heinrich is scheduled to go on trial this summer after being charged with possessing and receiving child pornography.
For Scheierl, timing was critical.
Two weeks from now, a law passed by the Legislature called the Minnesota Child Victims Act will expire. It’s the same law that has allowed recent lawsuits involving alleged abuse by priests to be filed.
With time running out, Scheierl says he decided to sue Heinrich because it may be his best and last chance of getting answers for himself and for Wetterling.
“I was aware that by May 25 I had to make a decision on whether to proceed with a civil lawsuit,” he said.
Scheierl said that, in the end, it was about keeping his options open, and on Wednesday Heinrich was served with a copy of the lawsuit in the Sherburne County Jail.
The suit charges him with one count of sexual battery and one count of false imprisonment and seeks damages in excess of $50,000.
Scheierl says he doesn’t expect to ever see a dime from Heinrich.
“I look forward to it as an opportunity go forward with my case and seek the answers I have been looking for,” he said.
Heinrich is scheduled to go on trial in July on 25 counts of possession of child pornography — a case that could send him to prison for decades if convicted.
Scheierl’s high-powered attorneys — Doug Kelley, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Dan Scott, the former chief public defender for the District of Minnesota — are taking the case for free.
“We are doing this, because it is the right thing to do,” Kelley said.
Kelley and Scott say the lawsuit will result in either a civil trial or civil proceeding that would force Heinrich and other key witnesses to take the stand.
While Scott and Kelley say Heinrich could plead the fifth, other witnesses would have to testify, revealing information not just about Scheierl’s case but in Wetterlings’s and the unsolved Paynesville cases, too.
“There is no doubt in my mind, collaterally, we are going to discover things about the Payenesville boys and Jacob Wetterling as well,” Kelley said.
Scheierl consulted Patty and Jerry Wetterling before going ahead with the lawsuit.
“I am thrilled that Jared is filing this suit,” Patty Wetterling said over the phone. “It gives him an opportunity to stand before this man and face him for the victimization that he did.”
Scheierl and his attorneys made it clear they do not want this civil lawsuit to interfere in any way with Heinrich’s child porn case.
Kelley said he will ask a Stearns County judge to postpone the civil lawsuit until after the child pornography trial is over.
Heinrich’s defense team filed a motion late Wednesday afternoon to move his child porn trial to either Des Moines, Madison or Milwaukee.