Man Admits To 1989 Kidnapping-Murder That Led To Sex Offender Registries
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
After almost three decades, Minnesota parents whose 11-year-old son was abducted finally know what happened. And we should tell you now, this story, which lasts about three minutes, will be disturbing to some listeners. A man arrested last year on child pornography charges admits he kidnapped and killed the boy. Here's Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio.
MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: On October 22, 1989, Jacob Wetterling, his brother and a friend rented a movie in St. Joseph, Minn., then headed home on their bikes. A man with a gun stopped them on a rural road, asked each his age, and then grabbed Jacob. He let the others go. In a Minneapolis federal court room yesterday, that man, 53-year-old Danny James Heinrich, admitted handcuffing Jacob, sexually assaulting him, then shooting him before burying his body. Heinrich led investigators to the remains last week. At a news conference, Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, said, until then, she'd held out hope her son was alive.
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PATTY WETTERLING: I want to say, Jacob, I'm so sorry. It's incredibly painful to know his last days, last hours, last minutes.
SEPIC: Authorities questioned Heinrich shortly after Jacob's disappearance, but he denied involvement. Wetterling soon became an advocate for missing children. In 1994, Congress passed a law named for Jacob that requires states to set up sex offender registries. Then, last year, a break in the case - investigators arrested Heinrich on child pornography charges. They soon found his DNA on the sweatshirt of another boy who'd survived a kidnapping and sexual assault nine months before Jacob disappeared. But Stearns County attorney Janelle Kendall says the statute of limitations for those crimes gave her a few options.
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JANELLE KENDALL: The only remaining charge that we could pursue was murder. And to prove murder, we had to be able to prove that Jacob Wetterling died.
SEPIC: So Kendall asked for help. Minnesota U.S. attorney Andy Luger says federal prosecutors leveraged the child porn charges to extract a murder confession. Even with the Wetterling's blessing, Luger says he feared a plea deal might not happen.
ANDY LUGER: He is not a calm man, and we knew that going into these discussions. And we knew we had a limited amount of time before he could change his mind.
SEPIC: Heinrich is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for child pornography. In exchange for the confession, he won't be prosecuted for Jacob's killing. Still, Luger says Heinrich is not getting away with murder. In Minnesota, after his sentence is up, he faces lifetime civil commitment under state law. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We say investigators arrested Danny Heinrich on child pornography charges and later found his DNA on the sweatshirt of a boy who had been kidnapped and abused. In fact, the DNA was found first and Heinrich was arrested later.]
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Correction Sept. 7, 2016
In this report, we say investigators arrested Danny Heinrich on child pornography charges and later found his DNA on the sweatshirt of a boy who had been kidnapped and abused. In fact, the DNA was found first and Heinrich was arrested later.