Answers are finally emerging about the abduction of an 11-year-old boy in Minnesota in 1989, as Danny Heinrich has admitted kidnapping and killing Jacob Wetterling. In a Minneapolis courtroom, Heinrich also said he kidnapped and sexually assaulted another boy.
Heinrich made the statements as part of a plea deal related to child pornography charges, on which he was indicted last December. All but one of those counts were dropped as part of the deal.
A sentencing hearing for Heinrich was scheduled for November; the agreed-upon plea deal calls for him to serve a maximum prison term of 20 years.
Jacob Wetterling was taken at gunpoint by a masked man who allowed Jacob's brother and a friend to get away. The three children had been riding bikes near their house in a rural area in central Minnesota.
Heinrich aired disturbing details about the case during a change-of-plea hearing Tuesday that saw the 53-year-old acknowledge his crimes against Jacob and against Jared Scheierl, who was 12 when he was kidnapped months before Jacob was abducted.
Jacob's parents were present at Tuesday's hearing; toward the end of the proceedings, Patty Wetterling said it was painful to learn about the last minutes of her son's life, according to Minnesota Public Radio's Brandt Williams.
Williams followed the proceedings from the courthouse. From his story about today's hearing:
"Heinrich said he confronted the children with a snub-nosed revolver. He handcuffed Jacob behind his back and drove away as Jacob asked, 'What did I do wrong?'
"Heinrich admitted sexually abusing Jacob and then shot him twice.
"Heinrich said he left Jacob's body and went home and went back later to hide the body, using a Bobcat to dig a hole. He returned to the site a year later to discover Jacob's jacket partially exposed. He picked up Jacob's remains and took them to a new spot."
That spot is evidently the same one Heinrich led authorities to last week, according to the AP. Human remains were recovered there that DNA analysis confirmed were Jacob's over the weekend.
Heinrich had been suspected in the two abductions, as well as in a string of eight sexually motivated assaults on young boys in Paynesville, Minn., where he lived. But at the time, the physical evidence wasn't considered to be enough to link him to the crimes.
Federal prosecutors say that after DNA tests linked Heinrich to the Scheierl case last year, investigators carried out a search that resulted in the discovery of "collections of child pornography within multiple three-ring binders." That discovery evidently created the legal opening the U.S. attorney's office needed to compel Heinrich to talk as part of a plea deal.
In a tweet, Williams relays that Heinrich had never met Jacob Wetterling or Jared Scheierl before he abducted them.
Scheierl, who's now 40 and has three children, told CBS Minnesota that the authorities told him the statute of limitations had run out on his case.
"They said the good news is we have your guy, the bad news is the statute of limitations exists in your case and we cannot prosecute him. There was a level of anger that came up," he said.
Scheierl has said he'd like to talk to Heinrich; in court Tuesday, he said that he now finds purpose in helping others, according to MPR's Williams.
Williams also relays U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger's explanation for how Tuesday's hearing came about, from an initial message from Heinrich's defense team to a meeting with the families in the case last week about a possible plea deal.