Wetterlings sue to seal case files

A judge on Friday stopped the scheduled public release next week of documents related to Jacob Wetterling's 1989 abduction and murder.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Patty and Jerry Wetterling have sued the Stearns County sheriff, seeking to block the release of certain documents in the investigative file into their son Jacob's kidnapping and murder until a judge can review them.

The investigative file was scheduled to be released Monday.

On Friday afternoon, the sheriff's office released a statement saying the Wetterling investigation materials will not be released on Monday, due to pending litigation. In a news conference on Friday, authorities said while they want to be sensitive to the Wetterlings' fair request, state law requires the files be released and not piece-by-piece.  

Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson also said there is no animosity between their office and the Wetterling family. 

Still, the Wetterlings are asking a judge to review, and potentially block the release of, certain documents.

According to the affidavit, Jerry Wetterling requests a temporary restraining order to prevent information from being released regarding "certain information relating to my marriage and family that I believe is protected from disclosure by the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution." 

"At no time during the investigation were we ever told that personal information about our marriage or family would ever become public," Jerry Wetterling states in the affidavit. "We always expected that all such information would remain private."

The Wetterlings are seeking to keep that portion of the file private, saying releasing it "will cause us and our family to suffer considerable and irreparable harm."

Investigators have said there are more than 100,000 pages of interviews, tips, leads sheets and investigative reports compiled in the 27 years since Jacob was kidnapped and killed by Danny Heinrich.

State law allows certain information to be redacted, but investigators have said that the law doesn't allow the county to redact all of the personal information that could be embarrassing to certain people mentioned in the file.

The filing of the lawsuit delays the release of the file until the county can review what the Wetterlings are requesting and respond. Officials reviewing the file and preparing it for release have repeatedly stated their concerns about complying with state Data Practices Act requirements to avoid any lawsuits from people named in the file.

Jacob Wetterling was 11 when he was abducted in October 1989 while biking home from a St. Joseph convenience store with his brother and a friend. The abduction was unsolved until September, when Heinrich admitted in federal court that he abducted, sexually assaulted and shot Wetterling.

Heinrich was sentenced to 20 years on an unrelated child pornography charge. As a part of that plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to not charge him with Wetterling's murder.

The county has received numerous media requests for access to the investigative file.

The family released a statement, after the lawsuit was filed, which reads: 

Our family has survived unfathomable pain and challenges since October 22, 1989 when our son Jacob was abducted. The journey catapulted us through uncharted territory for our family, the entire Minnesota family who adopted us, law enforcement, the media who covered it and many, many victims.

The sheriff, many agents and investigators, the Stearns County Attorney and US Attorney’s office locked up a dangerous predator who caused so much harm to so many for so long.
Let the blame be on the man who did this.

We survived living through this once and choose not to live through it again. We are moving forward not backward. To protect our family’s privacy we have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent disclosure of personal information that our lawyers tell us is private.

We can choose to not live in the darkness for one more moment of one more day. We are continuing to work to honor Jacob and the world he believed in.

We ask that we all turn our energy towards preventing any other child from being a victim of sexual assault. Let us provide children with better tools and mentor them to build healthy relationships.

Let us concentrate our energy on the way the world could be if we all embrace and work to support the eleven traits that Jacob embodies:
Be fair
Be kind
Be understanding
Be honest
Be thankful
Be a good sport
Be a good friend
Be joyful
Be generous
Be gentle with others
Be positive

Jacob taught us all how to live, how to love, how to laugh and oh how hard we have cried. We love you Jacob and your spirit is alive and strong in our hearts and minds today and every day.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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