A hearing scheduled for this week to discuss the issue of the release of investigative documents in the Jacob Wetterling abduction and murder case has been postponed to January.

Attorneys decided in a conference call Wednesday to move the hearing from Friday to sometime in mid-January.

Jacob was 11 years old when he was abducted at gunpoint on a rural road near his home in St. Joseph, Minn., on an October night in 1989. The mystery of what became of him finally came to a close in 2016 after Danny Heinrich, a former Paynesville, Minn., resident, led authorities to the boy’s remains in a pasture near Paynesville.

Heinrich confessed that he had abducted Jacob at gunpoint that night, molested him and killed him.

Under Minnesota law, once a case is closed, the investigative file is opened to the public.

The case file, which contains some 10,000 documents and 56,000 pages of information, was set to be released by Stearns County in June until Patty and Jerry Wetterling, Jacob’s parents, sought to stop it in hopes of keeping 168 pages permanently sealed on the grounds that they’re overly intrusive.

At issue now is whether the documents in the county’s file that originated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) must be returned to the agency and be subject to release under federal law. Lawyers say those documents make up more than half the case file. Whoever controls the documents determines whether they are released and when.

A coalition of open government, public interest and media organizations, including the Minnesota Newspaper Association, has argued that the entire file should be public. This week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil complaint with Stearns County demanding it return all of the FBI’s documents in the case.

STAFF REPORT