MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been found.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner and a forensic odontologist identified the remains as Wetterling’s.
A source told WCCO the suspect in the Wetterling case led the FBI to the remains.
Agents pressed Danny Heinrich for information on the nearly 27-year-old mystery in the last few days. Sources say the FBI took Heinrich out of jail at least twice this week.
It is during that time that Heinrich told investigators where they would find Jacob’s body. Searchers have been at a site in Stearns County for several days, and at some point found bodily remains and Jacob’s clothing at the scene.
Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, texted WCCO’s Esme Murphy Saturday morning.
“Our hearts are broken. We have no words,” Wetterling said.
Patty said the family will release an official statement at some point.
Jacob was 11 when he was kidnapped by a masked gunman on Sunday, Oct. 22, 1989 in St. Joseph. He was biking home from a convenience store with his brother and a friend.
The FBI says a similar case happened in January of 1989, when 12-year-old Jared Scheierl was sexually assaulted in nearby Cold Spring. There was also a series of sexual assaults in nearby Paynesville in 1986 and 1987.
Danny Heinrich, of Annandale, was questioned in 1990 about the assaults and the Wetterling case, but was never formally charged.
The FBI named Heinrich a person of interest in the Wetterling case last October. Heinrich was charged with 25 counts of child pornography possession on the same day, to which he eventually pleaded not guilty.
It was also announced on that day that DNA taken from Heinrich in 1990 linked him to Scheierl’s assault, a discovery made by investigators in 2015.
Heinrich would not face any charges due to the statute of limitations, but Scheierl filed a civil suit against him in May, accusing Heinrich of sexual battery and false imprisonment.
Heinrich’s attorney has asked for evidence and incriminating statements made to investigators to be thrown out of his child porn case. His attorney also asked for his trial to be moved away from the Twin Cities area, which was denied.
Heinrich will likely face decades in prison for possessing the porn, with experts calling it a very strong case against him. His trial is scheduled for next month, but there is concern that it could all fall apart due to the possible discovery of Wetterling’s remains. He could appear in court as early as Tuesday, although nothing has yet been scheduled.
Sources tell WCCO the discovery of Jacob’s remains were part of a plea deal made with Heinrich that prosecutors had been working on for months.
Criminal Defense Attorney Joe Friedberg is not directly involved in the case, but he told WCCO today a deal like this would be rare in a murder case.
Friedberg believes it means Heinrich will plead guilty to the child pornography charges and not be prosecuted for Jacob’s murder. As part of the deal it could mean Heinrich serves the rest of his life in a better federal prison.
“I can’t imagine that he said, ‘Look, I’ve done this and I’ve lived with it for so long I’d like to get rid of it,'” Friedberg said. “My guess is some form of immunity was given to him so he would lead them to where Jacob’s remains are.”
Friedberg also says state law states that a victims’ family would first have to sign off on such a plea deal. Meaning, the Wetterling’s would have agreed to this if Heinrich lead authorities to Jacob’s remains.
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center released this statement Saturday morning on their Facebook page:
“We are in deep grief. We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way. In this moment of pain and shock, we go back to the beginning. The Wetterlings had a choice to walk into bitterness and anger or to walk into a light what could be, a light of hope. Their choice changed the world.
This light has been burning for close to 27 years. The spark began in the moments after the abduction of Jacob Wettlering, when his family decided that light is stronger than darkness. They lit the flame that became Jacob’s Hope. All of Central Minnesota flocked to and fanned the flame, hoping for answers.
The light spread state-wide, nationally and globally as hearts connected to the 11 year old boy who liked to play goalie for his hockey team, wanted to be a football player, played the trombone, and loved the times he spent with his sisters, brother and parents.
Today, we gather around the same flame. the flame that has become more than the hope for one as it led the way home for thousands of others. It’s the light that illuminates a world that Jacob believed in, where things are fair and just.
Our hearts are heavy, but we are being held up by all of the people who have been a part of making Jacob’s Hope a light that will never be extinguished. It shines on in a different way. We are, and we will continue to be, Jacob’s Hope. Jacob, you are loved.”
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* Wetterlings Plead For Answers In Jacob’s Abduction
* Fmr. FBI Agent: Early Wetterling Investigation Was ‘A Bad Mistake’
* Original FBI Investigator On Wetterling Case Speaks Out
* Wetterling Person Of Interest Sued In Other Boy’s Abduction
* A Look At Danny Heinrich’s Criminal Past
* Patty Wetterling Opens Up About Heinrich Arrest For The First Time
* Nazi Memorabilia, New Kids’ Clothing Found In Heinrich’s Home
* Danny Heinrich Pleads Not Guilty To 25 Counts; Trial Date Set
* Judge Denies Heinrich’s Motion To Move Child Porn Trial