Jacob Wetterling’s killer apologized to his victims and their families as he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on child pornography charges on Monday, November 21.
Danny Heinrich, who was sentenced as part of a plea deal that included confessing to abducting and killing the 11-year-old in 1989, read out a statement to the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis during his sentencing hearing on Monday.
"I am truly sorry for my evil acts," Heinrich said as he stood before U.S. District Judge John Tunheim, Jacob's parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, and the boy's siblings.
Calling his actions "heinous" and "unforgivable," Heinrich, 53, apologized for what he took away from them. He said he kept silent for nearly three decades out of fear, but offered no explanation for why he killed Jacob.
Jacob’s mother Patty, who became a national advocate for missing children after his kidnapping, told her son’s killer in court she won’t “waste a minute of time” thinking about him “from this day forward.”
The statute of limitations over Jacob’s case and the case of another boy Heinrich sexually assaulted around the same time had expired, but the killer confessed and led authorities to Jacob’s remains this past August as part of a plea deal over the federal child pornography charges. His 20 year sentence is the maximum allowed, and although he could complete it in 17 years with good behavior, his plea deal leaves open the door for authorities to charge him as a sexual predator at the end of his term, and keep him behind bars for life.
“What you’ve done is so heinous, so brutal and so awful that I don’t believe society will let you go free,” Judge Tunheim said during the sentencing, adding that he “wouldn’t pretend” the case was only about the child porn charges.
Jacob’s kidnapping made national headlines over 25 years ago when he was abducted by a masked gunman while riding his bike with his brother and a friend in St. Joseph, Minnesota on October 22, 1989. A sex offenders registry law was established in Jacob’s name in 1994.
Heinrich was questioned by police at the time of the kidnapping and murder, but insisted he was innocent. However, he was linked to the crime again when police decided to look at the case at the 25 year anniversary. Using new technology, they found his DNA on the sweatshirt of a 12-year-old boy who had been sexually assaulted in the area nine months before Jacob’s kidnapping. With that DNA evidence, police were able to get a warrant to search Heinrich’s home, where they discovered the child porn stash. After months of denials, Heinrich finally confessed to kidnapping and murdering Jacob and to the sex assault of the 12-year-old boy.
Heinrich told the court in September that Jacob asked him “what did I do wrong?” before he drove the 11-year-old to a gravel pit and molested him; he was then spooked by a passing police car and shot and killed young Jacob.