The Annandale, Minn. man identified as a person of interest in the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court Monday to face charges that he possessed and received child pornography.

Danny James Heinrich, 52, will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois during a 10 a.m. arraignment in Minneapolis.

Heinrich has been in federal custody since late October, after authorities arrested him on charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. He was indicted in December on a total of 25 child pornography charges — five from October, plus an additional 20 related to possessing and receiving child pornography both in print and digital images. Some of the material featured children under the age of 12.

The child pornography case against Heinrich began building last summer, while authorities searched his home looking for evidence in both Jacob’s abduction and a separate kidnapping and sexual assault involving a 12-year-old boy in nearby Cold Spring, Minn. nine months before Jacob disappeared.

Jacob was 11 when he was kidnapped shortly after 9 p.m. on the night of Oct. 22, 1989, as he and his brother, Trevor, 10, and best friend, Aaron Larson, 11, rode their bikes to a Tom Thumb store not far from the family’s rural St. Joseph, Minn., home to rent a video.

As they headed home, a masked man with a gun appeared on the remote dirt road leading to the Wetterling house, told the boys to lie face down in a nearby ditch and asked each his age. He then ordered Trevor and Aaron to run to the woods and not look back. When the boys did, Jacob and the masked man were gone.

Jacob has yet to be found, and no one has ever been charged in the case.

Heinrich, who lived in Paynesville, Minn., about 30 miles southwest of St. Joseph, at the time of Jacob’s abduction, was first questioned by investigators soon after it happened, and several times in 1990. He said at that time that he was not involved in the case, authorities have said.

Heinrich re-emerged as a “person of interest” last summer, authorities have said, because of similarities to the January 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of the Cold Spring boy.

In that case, the driver told the boy after releasing him “not to look back or he would be shot,” according to court documents.

DNA evidence later found on the sweatshirt of the boy, Jared Scheierl, now 39, matched Heinrich. Authorities said in October that Heinrich could not be charged in Scheierl’s case because the statute of limitations had run out.

Yet they have long cited similarities in the two cases — both in the description of the suspect and how he approached his victims — as reason to believe the same person could be responsible for both.

Authorities said in October that Heinrich consistently has told them, both soon after Jacob’s disappearance and again recently, that he was not involved in the case.

They also said that when they searched Heinrich’s home last summer, they found nothing to connect Heinrich to Jacob.

At that time, however, they found 19 three-ring binders containing numerous images of child pornography. The binders included pictures of some known child victims. Child pornography also was found on Heinrich’s computer hard drive.

When authorities arrived at Heinrich’s house with a search warrant, he described himself as “a dirty old man,” but denied creating pornography or sharing it with anyone, according to a federal agent who testified in court.

None of the charges allege that Heinrich distributed pornography.

STAFF REPORT