A 53-year-old Minnesota man admitted in court that he was the masked gunman who kidnapped, raped, and killed 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in 1989, a violent crime that became the impetus behind part of a federal law, The Guardian reported.
Danny Heinrich made his confession on Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography in a separate case. His admission came a year after he was named a person of interest in the case, and about a week after he led police to the spot where he buried the boy’s remains.
KMSP-TV reported that Heinrich pleaded guilty to one of 24 charges in his child pornography case, which carries a minimum five-year prison sentence. Both his attorneys and the prosecution recommended a 20-year sentence, which would be the maximum. After completing that sentence, Heinrich would be eligible for “civil commitment.”
Heinrich admitted to ambushing Wetterling, as well as the boy’s brother and a friend at gunpoint near Wetterling’s home in St. Joseph on Oct. 22, 1989 after spotting them while driving his car. He said he dragged the boy into his car and handcuffed him. Heinrich recalled that Wetterling asked him, “What did I do wrong?”
He drove the boy out of town while using a police scanner to avoid authorities, raped him in a field near a gravel pit, then shot him in the head when he heard a police car nearby. Heinrich said he buried Wetterling’s body at a nearby site using construction equipment. Last year, after discovering the makeshift grave had been partially uncovered, he buried the boy’s body again at the site to which he led investigators.
Wetterling’s disappearance led to the enactment in 1994 of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, which required states to create a registry for sex offenders and people found guilty of offenses against children. It was amended two years later with the creation of Megan’s Law, which required information regarding sex offenders to be made available to the public.
Heinrich also admitted in court that he kidnapped and raped another boy, Jared Scheierl, nine months before killing Wetterling. Scheirl, who survived the attack, is now 40 years old and a father to three sons of his own. He was told last year, however, that Heinrich could not be prosecuted for that attack because the statute of limitations had expired.
“It’s 27 years later and I’m looking at my own 12 year old boy. It was a moment that was spiritual, kind of surreal. I’m still processing it in some ways,” he told WCCO-TV.