Prosecutors are pushing back against Danny Heinrich's requests to move his child pornography trial from Minnesota, throw out his statements to investigators and suppress evidence found during a search of his Annandale house.
In a 46-page document filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors argued that Heinrich, named a person of interest in the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, can get a fair trial in Minnesota "by a jury consisting of members who have no memory of ever having heard the defendant's name."
They contended that Heinrich's statements were made freely, while he "casually sipped on beer." Defending the search of Heinrich's home, prosecutors detailed their belief that Heinrich is linked to Wetterling's abduction in 1989, as well as other assaults.
Attorneys for Heinrich told a judge last month that the 53-year-old won't be able to get fair trial in Minnesota — largely because prosecutors publicly labeled him a "person of interest" in the Wetterling case. Heinrich has pleaded not guilty to 25 charges of possessing and receiving child pornography and has denied involvement in Wetterling's disappearance.
He is scheduled to stand trial on the child pornography charges in July in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois is expected to rule this month on the defense's motions, including its request that the trial be moved.
In May, Heinrich's attorneys said that naming him in Wetterling's abduction has "inextricably intertwined the child pornography case with the public's desire for justice for the Wetterlings." Within Minnesota, "it is not possible to seat a jury untouched and unaffected by the ubiquitous media exposure that surrounds this case," Reynaldo Aligada and Katherian Roe wrote, asking that Brisbois transfer the trial to Milwaukee, Madison, Wis., or Des Moines.
The U.S. attorney's office responded this week by pointing to examples of well-publicized cases being tried in their home districts, including Tom Petters' Ponzi scheme.
Calling Heinrich a person of interest is "less accusatory than the word 'suspect,' " wrote assistant U.S. attorneys Steven Schleicher and Julie Allyn. Heinrich's name "does not likely carry much recognition among potential jurors," they argued, and the U.S. attorney's office doesn't plan to introduce evidence about Wetterling during the child pornography trial.
The prosecutors also outlined the similarities between Wetterling's abduction in October 1989 and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy months earlier. Jared Scheierl — who is now 40 and speaking publicly about the assault — was walking home from the Side Café in January 1989 when a man forced him into the back seat of his car and sexually assaulted him.
"It has long been believed that the Cold Spring and Wetterling abductions were likely to have been committed by the same person," the memo says.
Last year, investigators found that DNA on Scheierl's sweatshirt matched Heinrich. "Investigators now had proof that Danny Heinrich was the person who kidnapped and sexually assaulted" Scheierl in 1989, the memo continues. Heinrich's connection to that assault "was scientifically conclusive."
Talking to investigators last year, Heinrich "denied responsibility for either crime," prosecutors noted in this week's memo.
Heinrich's team has also asked the judge to suppress Heinrich's statements to investigators, arguing that officers ought to have given Heinrich a Miranda warning, including his right to remain silent.
In their reply, prosecutors said the Miranda warning wasn't required because officers didn't put Heinrich in custody or interrogate him. Heinrich "sat outside on a nice day at a picnic table, placidly sipping a beer and freely chatting with investigators."