An Annandale man charged with possessing and receiving child pornography wants his trial moved from Minnesota, where he has been identified as a person of interest in the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling.
Attorneys for Danny Heinrich, 53, are expected to argue for a change of venue at a Wednesday hearing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Prosecutors, in a court filing, opposed the request. Heinrich is scheduled to stand trial July 11 in Minneapolis.
In February, Heinrich pleaded not guilty to 25 child pornography charges stemming from a search of his home last summer that turned up images of children, some younger than 12. He faces no charges related to Wetterling, who was abducted from a rural road in St. Joseph, Minn.
In federal court, motions to change venue are “very rare,” said Thomas Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. He could not recall a single such motion in his seven years as U.S. attorney.
Filing for the change of venue this month, Heinrich’s attorney Reynaldo Aligada said that “the grounds for this motion are set forth in a memorandum to be filed with the court.” But as of Tuesday, public court records showed no such memorandum.
Heinrich’s attorneys also filed motions to suppress four statements he made to investigators and evidence seized during the search of his home in July.
In a six-page response to Heinrich’s motions, prosecutors said “the government opposes any change of venue motion.”
They said they’d show during Wednesday’s hearing that Heinrich’s statements to investigators “were voluntary and were not made in violation of the Constitution.” The search warrant “contained sufficient information” to legally search Heinrich’s home, they argued.
That warrant, unsealed after Heinrich was arrested in October, showed that investigators were looking for evidence of Wetterling. Instead, they found computer folders and 19 three-ring binders that contained child pornography.
An FBI agent testified in November that Heinrich described himself as “a dirty old man” but that he denied creating pornography or sharing it with anyone.
Heinrich’s team is seeking a judge’s order to move the trial under a federal rule that says a trial must be transferred if “so great a prejudice against the defendant exists in the transferring district that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial there.”
“Normally, that’s a very, very high standard,” said Heffelfinger, now a partner at Best & Flanagan in Minneapolis. But because federal authorities announced that Heinrich was a person of interest in the Wetterling case, triggering a huge media response, “it’s an unusual situation,” he said. “There’s really no case that’s as notorious in Minnesota right now.”