MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The relatively new Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson pointed the finger Thursday at his own department and the FBI about how they handled Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance. That assertion lead to some tense moments at the conclusion of Thursday’s press conference.
“The FBI are not trained homicide investigators,” Gudmundson said.
Agency in-fighting has been pointed out before in the kidnapping case that haunted the state for so long, but we have never seen it play out so publicly.
When the FBI supervisor on the Wetterling investigation from the start, Al Garber asked to speak after the Stearns County Sheriff ended.
“You know what, Al, why don’t you take it outside,” Gudmundson said.
Garber was in charge of the feds involvement from 1989 to 1992.
“Don wasn’t there. He didn’t see the day-to-day operation,” Garber said.
He recalled the massive case, with 70 investigators working 16-hour days for months.
“We’re not dopes, we’re not stupid,” Garber said.
He took issue with that fatal flaw Sheriff Gudmundson pointed to: the interrogation of Danny Heinrich — essentially investigators’ last-ditch effort to connect him to the Wetterling case.
“To say that this was an uninformed interview done by incompetent people just hurts, it really hurts and it’s not true,” Garber said.
While much has been made now of that shoe print and tire marks at the kidnapping scene matching Heinrich, Garber says they need a lot more.
“Do you know what that means in the court of law? That means nothing,” Garber said.
What does mean something, Garber believes, is the massive amount of tips investigators received for years. With no reason, he says, to interview Heinrich again and again.
“I remember a guy who confessed. He said, ‘I kidnapped Jacob and I put him in this lake, and we found him in the state of Washington.’ Are we supposed to not go and talk to this guy?” Garber said.
The FBI told WCCO-TV a judge ordered 4,000 documents to be returned to them. On Thursday, the Stearns County Sheriff said that number is more than 12,000. But again, the FBI pushed back against the implication of a large discrepancy and multiple requests to have those FBI records eventually released are currently pending.
Jerry Wetterling, Jacob’s father, attended Thursday’s press briefing. He declined to speak with reporters. The Wetterlings said on Wednesday they are healing and getting stronger with time, and that they appreciate efforts to make things better for future victims of crime.
They are encouraging people to remember and honor their son by exhibiting the same 11 qualities he lived his life. Those are traits like be fair, be a good friend, be understanding and be thankful.