Prosecutor: Heinrich plea deal was only option

STEARNS COUNTY, Minn. - Since the beginning of being elected in 2002 Stearns County Prosecutor Janelle Kendall says solving the Jacob Wetterling case had been a topic of conversation between she and Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner. They were both elected to their positions in the same year and sworn.

"We both said for years that science would eventually clear this case and it did," Kendall told KARE 11's Dylan Wohlenhaus Wednesday.

Just one day removed from the hearing where Danny Heinrich admitted to kidnapping, molesting and murdering Jacob Wetterling Kendall says "the plea agreement was hard yet it was the only way."

The agreement in which Heinrich would disclose the details of the night of October 22, 1989 the night Jacob was abducted was not a sure thing Kendall said until Heinrich led investigators to Jacobs remains on Friday September 2.

Heinrich would agree to plead guilty to one count of receiving child pornography.

What led Investigators to finally getting a confession from Heinrich was the abduction and molestation of Jared Scheierl in January of 1989 months before Wetterling.

In 2015 Investigators tested DNA found on a sweatshirt worn by Scheierl which eventually tested positive for Heinrich.
"If that had not happened we couldn't have proved that Heinrich was lying about molesting Jared."
Which is what in part led investigators to believe Heinrich was responsible for Jacob's abduction.

Despite evidence, investigators were stuck

Because 26 years had passed since the abduction and molestation of Jared Scheierl investigators could not charge Heinrich with the crime despite the proof.

"The statute of limitations was expired," Kendall said. "If we could have charged that, we would have had substantial prison leverage to get him to talk about Jacob. Perhaps even the assaults that went on in Paynesville."

Dealing with that fact Kendall said that is when she made the call to US Attorney Andy Luger to try and find a way to create leverage to get Heinrich to talk.

"We still had no body," Kendall said, "We couldn't get to it without Heinrich leading us to Jacob and for us to make an agreement."

At that point Patty and Jerry Wetterling got involved Kendall explained.

"I said, you know we have nothing. It's always been about finding Jacob. There is no legal path to get there other than this."

As we know from the hearing on Tuesday the agreement was something that the Wetterlings including Jared Scheierl signed off on.

The agreement was to drop all but one child pornography charge and not to charge Heinrich with murder.

Heinrich would also have to admit to molesting and kidnapping Jared Scheierl. Kendall said it was not a for sure thing until Heinrich led investigators to Jacob's body which he did Friday Kendall said.

The agreement was signed in court on Tuesday after Heinrich disclosed the details of kidnapping, molesting and murdering Wetterling.

"Had we pursued a trial on what we had, you have a trial and you lose you're done forever," Kendall said. "You still don't have a body and you still don't have answers."

A secret kept for almost 27 years?

After helping to prosecute this case since 2003, Kendall said "he kept this to himself all these years as far as I am aware."

Kendall said there were no definitive leads that Heinrich may have told anyone what he did to Jacob Wetterling.

"When a person does that and doesn't tell anyone, that's powerful. It's the really surprising thing because people have this idea that everybody says something to somebody at some point," Kendall said.


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