The man who confessed to kidnapping 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling at gunpoint in October 1989 has replayed that night "in his head a thousand times," and wishes he never took the boy's life, according to a document his attorney filed in federal court Thursday.
Danny Heinrich, 53, is expected to be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty in September to one count of possessing child pornography. Heinrich entered the plea as part of an agreement that involved a confession to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Wetterling in 1989 and also molesting Jared Scheierl nine months earlier.
"It is not expected that this information will make anyone feel sympathy for Danny Heinrich, nor should they — he killed an innocent boy," wrote attorney Reynaldo Aligada Jr. in the court memo outlining his position on sentencing.
Heinrich, Aligada said, "shed countless tears for Jacob and his family" in the 27 years since the boy's death.
But that description of Heinrich sharply contrasts accounts from a fellow inmate at Sherburne County jail who said Heinrich bragged to inmates just weeks before he led investigators to Jacob's body that "he was going to be very famous" and "to be sure to watch for him on television." Jacob's remains were found in a pasture outside Paynesville, Minn., where Heinrich lived in 1989.
Earlier Thursday, attorneys for Anton Martynenko — who is also awaiting sentencing this month on federal child pornography charges — requested a reduced punishment for their client based on his help providing information about Heinrich to prosecutors from private conversations between the two in jail.
But the government, in its written brief in advance of Heinrich's sentencing, said Martynenko and other child-sex offenders housed in the same area of the jail have overstated such information in hopes of getting shorter sentences. Martynenko's assistance was, however, cited by prosecutors who requested a 40-year prison sentence for his role running an "elaborate, years-long sextortion scheme."
In their filings Thursday, both Heinrich's attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Allyn agreed that nothing can be said to reconcile Wetterling's death.
"No sentence could ever truly reflect the cruel, sadistic, and narcissistic character of this defendant," Allyn wrote, adding that Heinrich, after all this time, "seized an opportunity to obtain a favorable sentence for a ghastly act, and perhaps, he also cared enough to end the anguish."
With terms of the plea already spelled out, Heinrich's sentencing memo was brief.
Nevertheless, Aligada still sought to humanize a man he said could never shed a "constantly ingrained notion of his inadequacy" growing up around Paynesville, and who he said suffered head injuries as a child and was sexually assaulted as a young man.
But, he added, "he has also considered that there really is no explanation for how he could have done these terrible things."
Like all Minnesotans, Aligada said, Heinrich observed the Wetterlings' pain over 27 years, but did so knowing he had the information they desperately sought.
Heinrich considered how he could lead the family to the boy's remains without incriminating himself, but feared his DNA could be found at the scene and also worried about leading anyone to a burial site in the same town in which he lived, the court document said.
Doug Kelley, who represents the Wetterlings and Scheierl, declined to comment Thursday on the filings.
Aligada said Heinrich is still hopeful to "somehow convey how sorry he feels for the terrible crimes that he has committed" when he returns to court on Monday. Aligada said Heinrich "kept to himself, worked a job and never touched another child" after Jacob's death. At a news conference following Heinrich's confession, authorities said they were unaware of additional assaults linked to him.
Aligada maintains Heinrich wishes he never left his home the night of Oct. 22, 1989, nor encountered Jacob and his friends as they headed back to the Wetterling house after renting a video at a Tom Thumb store in St. Joseph, Minn., about 30 miles from Paynesville.
"Danny Heinrich's crimes against Jacob Wetterling and Jared Scheierl have defined his life," Aligada said.
Staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.