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Confessed killer of Jacob Wetterling gets 20 years in porn case

USA TODAY USA TODAY 21/11/2016 David Unze

MINNEAPOLIS — Danny Heinrich was sentenced Monday morning to 20 years in prison for possessing child pornography, a crime that led to the discovery of remains of Jacob Wetterling, a boy he abducted and killed more than 27 years ago.

Heinrich, 53, pleaded guilty to the child porn charge and admitted abducting and murdering Wetterling. In August, he led authorities to Jacob's remains on a farm just outside of Paynesville.

As part of the plea agreement to the federal child porn charges, Heinrich will not be prosecuted for Wetterling's murder. The 20-year sentence was part of a plea agreement that had the blessing of the Patty and Jerry Wetterling, Jacob's parents.

That plea also included an admission by Heinrich that he kidnapped and sexually assaulted Jared Scheierl 10 months before the Wetterling abduction. The statute of limitations prevents any prosecution of Heinrich for that crime.

Investigators found the child pornography when executing a search warrant in July 2015 at Heinrich's Annandale home seeking any evidence about the Wetterling abduction. Heinrich was indicted on 25 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography.

He pleaded guilty in September to one child pornography count.

Danny James Heinrich © Sherburne County Jail Danny James Heinrich

At that hearing, he told a federal judge about the October night in 1989 when he kidnapped 11-year-old Jacob at gunpoint. Heinrich told a packed courtroom that he handcuffed Jacob's arms behind his back after telling his brother, Trevor, and friend Aaron Larson to run and not look back or he would shoot.

He put Jacob in the front passenger seat of his car, driving toward his hometown of Paynesville. He took Jacob to a rural area near a gravel pit and forced the boy to undress, then sexually assaulted him.

He then shot Jacob twice in the head and buried him, coming back about a year later to rebury his remains at a nearby farm.

In Judge John Tunheim's court Monday morning in Minneapolis, those most impacted by Heinrich's actions got to look him in the eye and share how that terrible night 27 years ago changed their lives forever. 

The most powerful thoughts came from Patty Wetterling, who was the final speaker before Heinrich. 

"He broke my heart, my soul and every fiber of my being when he murdered our Jacob," she said, speaking of the man who man who stole and murdered her son. "My heart hurts for my children ... for Aaron ... who kept waking up and realizing that it wasn't a nightmare."

After remaining stoic for most of the proceedings, Heinrich wiped his eyes as Patty Wetterling talked about her son.

"Heinrich took away a wonderful human being, who wanted to grow up to be a football player, but mostly just wanted to grow up," she said. "You didn't need to kill him. He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to go home."

Patty told Heinrich that he would not win, and that she will leave the negativity and fear in court.

"I won't wonder about you or waste a moment of time concerning myself from this day forward. And we're taking Jacob with us," she said with resolve. 

Heinrich, himself, was allowed to speak before his sentence was handed down.

"I am truly sorry ... for my evil acts I committed against my victims and their families," he said.

Addressing the Wetterlings personally, he said, "Mr. and Mrs. Wetterling, the heinous acts, selfishness -- they are unforgivable. I'm so sorry."

Heinrich also addressed Scheierl, who was just 12 when Heinrich kidnapped and sexually assaulted him in January 1989. Heinrich told Scheierl he was sorry for the innocence he stole from him and others he had targeted.

At that point, Heinrich uttered, "There is no more, your honor."

Contributing: Dana Thiede, KARE.Follow David Unze on Twitter: @sctimesunze

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