Person of Interest in Jacob Wetterling Kidnapping, Murder Appeared in District Court

Danny James Heinrich appeared in a Minnesota District Court on Tuesday, September 6 in the unsolved kidnapping and murder of area resident Jacob Wetterling. He was in jail on unrelated child pornography charges, but was also suspected of being involved in the 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of Jared Scheier.

The Case:

Jacob Wetterling, 11, was abducted at gunpoint from his home in St. Joseph, Missouri on October 22, 1989. The case went unsolved for over 27 years. However, Heinrich was a person of interest in that case and another the same year, the abduction and assault of Jared Scheier.

About the Hearing:

Heinrich was in jail facing federal child pornography charges. He was put in jail over a year ago, but will now appear before Judge John Tunheim. The 53-year-old Heirich is currently at Sherburne Country Jail in Elk River. Federal prisoners are routinely held there.

The hearing is expected to answer several questions about the case:

  1. Did prosecutors offer Heinrich a deal in return for leading to them to Kettering’s body?
  2. Will he plead guilty to child pornography charges or to other charges related to Kettering’s kidnapping and murder.
  3. How much time will Heinrich spend in prison for his crimes?
  4. Will Heinrich share more details of the crime in his hearing?

Details of the crimes and their aftermath came to light during the hearing and have been widely reported in the media. Heinrich took a plea deal to avoid even more prison time, and revealed more details about the nature and circumstances of Wetterling’s abduction and murder.

Outcome of the Hearing:

Heinrich confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting, then murdering, Jacob Wetterling in Thursday’s court appearance according to NBC News and Minnesota Public Radio. He made the admission as part of a plea deal that drops all but one of the child pornography charges and means he will not face prison time for kidnapping and killing Wetterling.

In the hearing, Heinrich described the circumstances of the crime. The killing happened after the sexual assault, when Heinrich panicked. He initially buried the body near the site, but found the boy’s jacket exposed a year later. This discovery prompted Heinrich to exhume the body and re-bury it on a farm in nearby Paynesville.

Heinrich still faces up to 20 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on November 21.

Case Background:

Danny Heinrich was arrested in October 2015 after investigators serving a search warrant entered his home and found three-ring binders filled with explicit pictures of young boys. Authorities obtained a search warrant after DNA testing revealed some of his DNA on clothing of Jared Scheieri, who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted back in 1989.

Jacob Wetterling was abducted a few months after Scheieri. Investigators had since suspected that the two cases were connected. Heinrich became a suspect soon after Wetterling went missing. The FBI started surveillance on him and questioned him in 1990.

Wetterling’s body was found behind on a farm in Paynesville, in Steam County. Heinrich led authorities to the location, where they found clothing and human remains. A few days later, the remains were identified as those of Wetterling. Authorities had used the possibility of federal prison time for child pornography to get Heinrich’s cooperation in looking for the missing boy. In return for helping them solve the case, Heinrich will not face additional prison time for the sexual assault and murder.

The key to the arrest turned out to be advanced DNA sequencing technology that was not available in 1990. Genetic material on some of Heinrich’s clothing that was collected in the 1990 investigation led to Heinrich’s arrest.

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