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Wetterling killer sentenced to 20 years in prison

Daniel (Danny) James Heinrich. Sherburne County Sheriff's Office

MINNEAPOLIS—Danny Heinrich, the man who confessed to killing Jacob Wetterling almost three decades ago, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday, Nov. 21, in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Officials set up extra courtrooms for spectators as an overflow crowd of family, media and others arrived. After victim impact statements from Wetterling's family and friends, along with a brief statement from Heinrich himself, Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim sentenced him to 20 years in federal prison on a child-pornography charge, as planned in a plea agreement.

Heinrich, 53, of Annandale confessed in court to abducting, sexually assaulting and fatally shooting Jacob on Oct. 22, 1989. In chilling detail, he described taking Jacob at gunpoint less than a mile from his home in St. Joseph, Minn., and driving him to Paynesville, Minn., where Heinrich was living at the time. At a spot near a gravel pit, Heinrich forced Jacob to undress and sexually assaulted him. He said Jacob cried after the assault, told him he was cold and asked to go home.

Heinrich said that he panicked after a police car drove by and that he shot Jacob twice in the head. He said he left Jacob's body at the scene, came back an hour later and buried it. A year later, he said, he moved the body after he returned to the scene of the crime and could see that Jacob's jacket had begun to show through the dirt.

In an interview with the Pioneer Press last month, Patty Wetterling said she wanted to ask Heinrich one question: Why? She declined to be interviewed last week.

"We know what happened and when and where, but we don't know why," Wetterling said in the interview. "As a rational person, you try to figure it out, but this one you can't, because it makes no sense."

Patty and Jerry Wetterling and their surviving three children, Trevor, Amy and Carmen, submitted victim-impact statements to be read today at Heinrich's sentencing. Aaron Larson, who was with Jacob and Trevor Wetterling when Jacob was abducted, also spoke in court.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a news partner with Forum News Service

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