Jacob Wetterling's Family Confronts Boy's Killer

Danny Heinrich sentenced to 20 years for 11-year-old's murder—but not before Jacob's loved ones spoke
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 21, 2016 1:07 PM CST
Jacob Wetterling's Family Confronts Boy's Killer
In this Aug. 28, 2009, file photo, Patty and Jerry Wetterling show a photo of their son Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted in October 1989.   (AP Photo/Craig Lassig, File)

(Newser) – It was a tense, emotional courtroom scene in Minneapolis Monday morning as one chapter in the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling came to a close. At a US District Court hearing for 53-year-old Danny Heinrich, who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on one count of child porn (a plea deal), Heinrich apologized to Jacob's family for the "evil acts" that led to Jacob's death in 1989, telling Jacob's parents specifically that "the heinous acts of selfishness are unforgivable … I'm so sorry," the Star Tribune reports. The AP notes that 20 years is the max that can be given on a single child-porn count, and Heinrich is technically eligible for release after 17 years, though Judge John Tunheim said during the hearing that it's "unlikely that society will let you go free." The Chicago Tribune notes the law permits the state to have Heinrich civilly committed as a sex predator when his federal sentence ends.

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In handing down Heinrich's sentence, Tunheim noted, "No one is ever going to forget October 22 of 1989. But we will move forward." Before he spoke, however, it was Jacob's family who addressed Heinrich, with mom Patty Wetterling saying he "broke my heart, my soul, and every fiber of my being when he murdered our Jacob," per NBC News. She added directly to Heinrich: "You didn't need to kill him. He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to go home." And as Jerry Wetterling, Jacob's dad, actually thanked Heinrich for leading authorities to Jacob's body this summer, Heinrich himself appeared to tear up, per the Star Tribune. Jacob's brother and sister also spoke—they expressed love for Jacob and insecurity should Heinrich ever be released—as did a man who was abducted and molested by Heinrich as a 12-year-old less than a year before Jacob's abduction. (Read more Jacob Wetterling stories.)

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