Heinrich admits killing Jacob Wetterling

Man admits to killing Minnesota child in 1989

WARNING: This article contains graphic content that may be upsetting.

MINNEAPOLIS - Standing before a packed courtroom that included Jacob Wetterling's parents and extended family, Danny Heinrich admitted to abducting and killing the boy as part of a deal that will keep him behind bars for decades. 

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After pleading guilty to a single count of receiving child pornography, Heinrich coldly detailed how he kidnapped and killed Jacob. Heinrich told the courtroom how on that fateful night he was driving through St. Joseph around 8 p.m. when he noticed three boys on bikes with a flashlight on a dead end road. He described pulling into a driveway after they passed him.

Heinrich testified that he jumped out of the car wearing a mask and holding a .38 revolver. He ordered them into a ditch and asked their names and ages. "I told Trevor (Jacob's brother) and Aaron (Jacob's best friend) to run away, don't look back or I'll shoot. " Heinrich recalled. 

The defendant described how he then handcuffed Jacob and put him in the passenger seat of his car. Heinrich had a police scanner in his vehicle, and after hearing police respond to the kidnapping he decided he'd better drive back to his home in Paynesville. He recalled Jacob at one point asking him, "What did I do wrong?" At that point in the testimony Jacob's sisters began audibly sobbing. 

Heinrich described taking a series of back roads that wound through several small central Minnesota communities until he reached a sewage pond road and drove to a gravel pit by a grove of trees. There, he forced Jacob to disrobe and perform a sexual act on him until the boy told Heinrich he was cold.

Jacob asked to be taken home, and Heinrich became visually emotional as he recalled telling the boy it was too far. On the way back to the car Heinrich noticed a police cruiser on the road nearby. He said he panicked, pulled his revolver and put two rounds inside. "I raised the revolver to his head, clicked once with no bullet in the chamber. Shot him twice after that. " Heinrich admitted firing into the back of Jacob's head after asking the boy to turn around so he could go to the bathroom.

The details got worse. Heinrich described how Jacob was still crying after the first shot, so he fired again. Family member wept at the cold recollection, putting their heads into their hands, some visibly shaking. 

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After driving back to his home and staying for a couple of hours, Heinrich testified that he returned to the gravel pit and dragged Jacob's body approximately 100 yards to bury him. The defendant says his own shovel was too small so he stole one from the construction site. He then spotted a Bobcat digger with keys in it and used the machine to dig a large grave for Jacob. 

When asked by a prosecutor if he returned to the burial site one year later, Heinrich said yes, and detailed how he dug up and collected Jacob's remains and put them in a garbage bag. He moved them to an unspecified site nearby.  " Found a spot and dug a hole with a trenching tool about two feet deep. and put the bones in that hole and the jacket on top," he told the court.

Heinrich testified how he led authorities to that second site while handcuffed last week. 

While official sentencing doesn't take place until November 21, the plea deal calls for Danny Heinrich to serve 20 years in prison, the same length he would serve for the child porn charge alone. Federal sentences do not allow for parole, so he will serve the entire 20. The Wetterlings reportedly signed off on the deal, essentially trading immunity on murder charges to find out what happened to Jacob and bring him home.  

Heinrich would be 73 after serving a 20-year sentence. Judge Tunheim also said the defendant could be civilly committed as a sexual predator if he lives beyond that sentence.  

Prosecutors also had Heinrich detail how he kidnapped and sexually assaulted Jared Scheierl on January 13, 1989, just months before killing Jacob. He admitted keeping Jared's pants and underwear. When a prosecutor asked him "For what purpose?", Heinrich responded, "Souvenir, I guess."

Before addressing the Wetterling case Heinrich, who sources say led investigators to Jacob's remains last week , pleaded guilty to a charge of receiving child pornography. The U.S. Attorney will ask the court to dismiss the remaining counts of that indictment. A federal prosecutor detailed the results of a search warrant that ended in the discovery of explicit images of children on the hard drive of Heinrich's computer. An image the defendant downloaded on March 1, 2014 is the basis for the only charge in the child pornography indictment he is pleading guilty to. 

Before Chief Judge John Tunheim accepted the plea, he had Heinrich sworn in and questioned to make sure he was competent to make a decision with such gravity.  The defendant testified that he has never been treated for any form of mental disease or addiction.

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