The man who said he kidnapped, sexually assaulted, then shot Jacob Wetterling on an October night 27 years ago will spend two decades in prison.
Danny Heinrich, who recently confessed to his involvement in the boy's death in 1989, was sentenced by a judge Monday to 20 years in prison for a child pornography charge unrelated to what happened to Jacob Wetterling. He'll also be on supervised release for the rest of his life.
The 20-year sentence came about after a plea deal he made – he divulged what happened to Jacob Wetterling and ended the 27-year mystery, in exchange for pleading guilty to far fewer child porn charges than he was originally facing. (You can read more about the deal made below.)
A number of reporters were tweeting from the courtroom, including Paul Blume, Kirsti Marohn, Pam Louwagie, Lou Raguse and others, so check those out for details about what Heinrich and others said Monday.
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center responded with this message on Facebook Monday:
Heinrich late last week was reportedly struggling coming to grips with what he did. In response, Jacob's parents Patty and Jerry Wetterling put out a statement that said in part:
"To state that he never had any intention to commit this heinous crime is ludicrous. He stated he went out hunting that night for boys. He brought a gun this time AND he brought bullets. He could have used the gun to scare the boys but he brought bullets.
"I believe his struggle with the secret was really his struggle with the fear of being caught. He may have “shed countless tears” but not one tear was shed when he stood in the courtroom telling us what he did to Jacob.
"I am glad to hear he feels remorse. The only way he can know the magnitude of the pain he has caused is to allow himself to feel for someone other than himself. I hope he feels that every day just as we have had to feel the loss and the pain of losing Jacob every moment of every day."
He's not being sentenced for Wetterling's death
Heinrich isn't actually being punished for what he admitted doing to Jacob Wetterling.
He was arrested in October of 2015 as part of a child porn investigation, with charges against him saying they discovered child pornography in 3-ring binders and on a computer, as well as hours of video that showed neighborhood kids playing and out in public. He was charged with four counts of having child porn, and one count of receipt of child porn.
Authorities quickly called him a possible "person of interest" in the Jacob Wetterling case, but didn't go beyond that.
Over the next 10 months, prosecutors worked to use those federal child porn charges against Heinrich (which can carry lengthy prison sentences) as a way to get information on Jacob Wetterling.
“[We were] literally seeking leverage that a substantial federal prison sentence could provide to further the Wetterling investigation,” Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall explained after his confession in September.
So instead, Heinrich confessed to Jacob Wetterling's killing (as well as the sexual assault of another young boy), and in exchange pleaded guilty only to one count of receipt of child porn.
Just 10 days before his confession in court, Heinrich’s defense team reached out to prosecutors to say a plea agreement was possible. But the deal didn’t come easily, and prosecutors were worried up until actually Heinrich signed the plea that he would change his mind, Luger said.
“After nearly 27 years, Danny Heinrich was willing to talk and we had to grab the moment,” Luger said, explaining that Heinrich was a “volatile and unpredictable person” who would change his mind any minute and “clam up.”
As for whether that means Heinrich got away with the murder of a young boy, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger in September disagreed.
“He’s not getting away with anything. We got the truth. The Wettering family can bring him home," he said.