MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – Danny Heinrich, the Minnesota man who led authorities to the remains of Jacob Wetterling, appeared in federal court Tuesday in a child pornography case where he admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Wetterling.
Heinrich‘s status conference began at 1 p.m. in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis Tuesday. The appearance was part of a plea deal. Heinrich, 53, was facing the prospect of life behind bars as he is currently in jail on 25 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography.
As part of the plea deal, Heinrich pled guilty to one count of the receipt of child pornography, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years in prison. The judge recommended the maximum sentence. Court officials may also recommend Heinrich be placed in a sex offender civil program after completing his criminal sentence. His official sentencing date is set for Nov. 21 at 10 a.m.
Jacob Wetterling Case Background
Last year, authorities named Heinrich as a person of interest in the abduction of Wetterling, who was snatched from a rural road in central Minnesota on Oct. 22, 1989. He was riding his bicycle with his brother and a friend near his home in St. Joseph when a masked gunman abducted him. Authorities said the man held on to Wetterling and told the other boys to run.
Wetterling was not seen alive again despite extensive searches, tens of thousands of leads and offers of a monetary reward.
Last week, sources told WCCO that Heinrich led investigators to a farm in the Paynesville area where Wetterling’s remains were found, as confirmed by dental records. Authorities say they’re conducting additional DNA testing and expect to provide more details this week.
Heinrich Pleads Guilty To Child Porn Charge
On Tuesday, Heinrich appeared in federal court at 1 p.m. After entering the court, Heinrich signed his plea agreement, changing his plea to guilty of just one count of receiving child pornography. As part of the agreement, Heinrich had to disclose why he was guilty of the child pornography case.
Prosecutors then began detailing the contents of the child pornography found in Heinrich’s home. As they went through the evidence, Heinrich admitted to having 150 images of child porn.
Then, Heinrich admitted to kidnapping Wetterling.
Heinrich Describes What Happened That Night
After signing his plea deal in court and being sworn in Danny Heinrich — in a strong and matter-of-fact tone — gave a horrifying account of Jacob Wetterling’s last hours.
It was just after 8 p.m. on a now infamous St. Joseph road that Danny Heinrich, then 26, was driving his Ford EXP sedan when he saw three boys pass him on bikes.
He pulled into a driveway and waited for them to return. He then put on his mask, grabbed a gun, jumped out of the darkness and ordered them to the ground.
He testified he grabbed Jacob and threatened to kill Jacob’s brother Trevor and best friend Aaron Larson. Aaron said the gunmen ordered he and Trevor to run, and said “don’t look back or I’ll shoot.”
Heinrich said he then handcuffed Jacob hands behind his back and forced him into the front seat. According to Heinrich Jacob asked, “What did I do wrong?”
In an attempt to avoid police searches, Heinrich then drove Jacob for about 45 minutes from St. Joseph onto Interstate 94 heading west 15 miles to Albany. He then drove him 30 miles south on country roads towards his own hometown of Paynesville.
Two miles east of Paynesville, off of what was then state Highway 23, he stopped at what was back then a gravel pit. He then had Jacob strip and molested him.
A half hour later, Jacob told Heinrich he was cold. Heinrich allowed Jacob to dress and told him, “don’t cry.”
Then Heinrich, who had a portable scanner in his car, began to hear police activity nearby. The search for Jacob was underway, and Heinrich told the court, “I panicked. I pulled the revolver out of my pocket. I told Jacob to turn around. I told him I had to go to the bathroom.”
He testified he then shot Jacob in the back of the head. After the first shot Jacob was still standing. He fired again and Jacob collapsed. Heinrich then left the body and returned later that night to bury the remains.
A year later, Heinrich returned to the site and saw Jacob’s clothing was visible, so he dug up the remains and moved them about a mile to a farm outside Paynseville. There, he buried Jacob a second time.
Heinrich Admits To Kidnapping, Assault Of Jared Scheierl
After Heinrich finished detailing his attack on Wetterling, he admitted to sexually assaulting Jared Scheierl. He said he threatened to kill Scheierl if he threw up during the assault.
WCCO’s Esme Murphy said Heinrich said he did not have a revolver when he assaulted Scheierl, despite telling Scheierl that he did. He said he only purchased it after assaulting Scheierl.
When Heinrich finished detailing his attacks, the judge ordered him to turn over his computer.
If found guilty, Heinrich faces a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of 20 years. The court recommended a maximum sentence.
The court accepted Heinrich’s guilty plea in the child pornography case. Sentencing has been set for 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 21.
Wetterling Family Speaks Out
In a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger then introduced Patty Wetterling, calling her his hero.
Speaking of Jacob, Patty said: “He has taught us all how to live, how to love, how to be fair, how to be kind. He speaks to the world that he knew, that we all believe it and it is a world worth fighting for,” she said. “For us, Jacob was alive until we found him.”
Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, always kept hope her son would be found alive. She became a nationally recognized advocate for missing and exploited children, and a 1994 federal law named for Jacob requires states to establish sex offender registries.
She released a statement on Sunday saying the family was grieving: “Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us. Say a prayer. Light a candle. Be with friends. Play with your children. Giggle. Hold Hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. That is what will bring me comfort today.”
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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