MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The heartbreak of 27 years was laid out in court Monday as the Wetterling family and others spoke at the sentencing of the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered Jacob Wetterling.
Patty Wetterling told Danny Heinrich, “You didn’t need to kill him.”
At one point, Heinrich wiped away tears as he addressed the court, saying, “I am truly sorry for my evil acts.”
But prosecutor Julie Allyn fired back saying Heinrich was not sorry and that he was a cruel narcissist who caused unparalleled anguish.
As part of a plea deal, the judge sentenced Heinrich to 20 years in prison on one count of possessing child pornography.
The plea deal was reached in September with the OK from the Wetterling family.
Within days, Heinrich lead the FBI to Jacob’s remains.
In addition to Patty and Jerry Wetterling, the two boys — now men — who were with Jacob that night spoke. So did Jacob’s two sisters and Jared Scheierl, who Heinrich also confessed to kidnapping and sexually assaulting back in 1989.
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Twenty-seven years of anguish and a lifetime of heartache were laid bare in Minneapolis federal court.
The two boys who were with Jacob that night — his 10-year-old brother Trevor and then 11-year-old friend Aaron Larson — spoke.
Larson said he had been haunted with guilt.
“I was the monster, I was the coward that left my friend,” he said tearfully.
Trevor Wetterling said he blamed himself because he was the one who had suggested the boys bike to a convenience store that night to rent a movie.
He described years of sleeping on the floor in his parents’ bedroom.
“I will not feel safe if he is ever released,” Trevor Wetterling said.
“I love you Jacob. This was not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong,” Jacob’s younger sister Carmen said.
Jacob’s older sister Amy spoke of her anguish of hearing the details of the last moments of Jacob’s life.
In September, Heinrich described how he kidnapped Jacob, sexually assaulted him and then shot him when he thought police were nearby.
Heinrich said then that Jacob had asked him, “What did I do wrong?”
Heinrich appeared to wipe away tears as Amy said, “For nearly 27 years he let us believe that we would someday be able to see Jacob again.”
“He watched us suffer through anniversary after anniversary,” she said.
Jerry Wetterling began by thanking Heinrich for finally saying where Jacob was. Heinrich looked away and appeared to cry. Jerry Wetterling spoke of how the abduction had even hurt his marriage, that he and Patty were in such pain they could not be there for each other.
“I miss Jacob so very much,” Jerry Wetterling said. “I miss all the things I didn’t get to experience.”
“My heart hurts,” Patty Wetterling said. “He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to go home.”
Heinrich also spoke, offering a brief but emotional apology.
“To Mr. and Mrs. Wetterling, the heinous acts, the selfishness are unforgivable for what I’ve taken away from you,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. I’m so sorry.”
Also in court — five men who prosecutors say Heinrich assaulted in Paynesville in the 1980s. Some of them cried.
Heinrich also apologized to Jared Scheierl, who was 12 when Heinrich abducted and sexually assaulted him in January of 1989.
Scheierl spoke briefly in court but walked out just before Heinrich made his statement. He spoke afterword.
“We can all learn from the lessons that we heard today from the Wetterling family and the excellent words that they’ve shared with all of us as well. I am very grateful to have had their support along the way as well,” Scheierl said.
In a statement released after court, the Wetterlings thanked Scheierl and blogger Joy Baker, whose efforts helped break the case. And as sad as this hearing was, there were also words of hope.
“Jacob’s hope does live in all of us, and you can never take that away, ever,” Patty Wetterling said to her son’s murderer.
Heinrich is only 53, so he could get out when he is about 70. He was also sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release and prosecutors have promised to civilly commit him if he does get out.
Though this plea deal for the 20 years may have been controversial for some in the public, it had the full support of the Wetterling family, because without it they believe they would have never found Jacob.
After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger released his statement and statements from the FBI and Stearns County:
“Today’s sentencing marks the close of a sad chapter in Minnesota history,” said U.S. Attorney Luger. “Danny Heinrich hurt countless lives, none more tragic than Jacob Wetterling. I encourage all Minnesotans to draw on the example of Patty and Jerry Wetterling, who transformed their grief into hope. Patty and Jerry have dedicated their lives to helping other parents bring their kids home. We can all help. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 4 million online tips last year of suspected child sexual exploitation. No concern is too small, no observation too unimportant to call 1-800-THE-LOST or go online to http://www.missingkids.com. Every child matters. Every second counts.”
“The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, never wavered in the effort to solve this heinous crime,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Minneapolis Division Richard T. Thornton. “Although solving this crime took decades, justice has been delivered to both the Wetterling family and to the citizens of Minnesota. This sentencing should serve as a reminder to those who perpetrate crimes against children: Law enforcement will never give up in its hunt to find you and bring you to justice no matter how long it may take.”
“The victims today spoke eloquently of the real effect of these crimes, for not only themselves but also on behalf of other victims both present and represented in the videos and in the vast amount of child pornography Heinrich possessed,” said Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall. “Their accounts of the pain compounded by Heinrich’s years of silence during their pleas for answers was heart rending. I must agree with the US Attorney that Heinrich’s regret only caused him to act when he’d been cornered. That said, I was also struck by the resilience, strength, and insight of these victims brought together by evil, but now joined by Jacob’s Hope. It has been an honor and privilege to know them through this experience. Thanks again to our federal and state partners for getting us all to today.”