GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – The Wetterling family attorney says his clients not only signed off on the plea deal that would result in the discovery of their murdered son, they also visited the site where the child’s remains were found.
On Wednesday, Attorney Doug Kelley sat down with KARE 11 to talk about the week that led up to a plea deal with 53-year-old Danny Heinrich. Patty and Jerry Wetterling learned the deal was coming together only two days before investigators would find his remains on a Paynesville farm. Kelley said the Wetterlings wanted to bring Jacob home above all else.
“Patty said that this is not about Heinrich for us, this is about Jacob,” Kelley said.
On Aug. 29, Kelley said he received a phone call from U.S. Attorney Andy Luger requesting a meeting with the Wetterlings. Realizing a deal was imminent – and not being able to reach the Wetterlings by phone – Kelley jumped into his car and drove to St. Joseph.
“Patty said, essentially, ‘must be important if you drove up here without talking to us?’ And I said, ‘yes, it is important. We really need to talk,’” Kelley said.
The next day, the Wetterlings met with prosecutors and law enforcement officials, learning more about the deal that would trade murder charges for explicit answers on what happened to Jacob.
“Andy said, ‘I’m not going to do this without your blessing,’ and Patty said, ‘you have it,’” Kelley said.
‘THEY WANTED TO BE THERE’
And with that, Heinrich led investigators to the site where he buried Jacob decades ago. And while investigators looked for Jacob’s remains, Patty and Jerry Wetterling watched from afar.
“They just wanted to see the area that their son had been buried in,” Kelley said.
Tests officially confirmed the remains belonged to the 11-year-old St. Joseph boy, but Kelley said the Wetterlings quickly realized they’d found their son.
“On that Wednesday, I think they thought it was Jacob’s jacket,” he said.
And with that realization, came a demand from their parents themselves. During Heinrich’s confession, they wanted him to share details about their son’s death – including his last words.
“They did want to hear the details,” Kelley said, adding they would first hear those details before the Tuesday hearing when Heinrich himself would recount the events of Oct. 22, 1989.
‘FIND PEACE IN OUR HEARTS’
On Wednesday – one day after hearing Heinrich confess to her son’s murder – Patty Wetterling asked Kelley to speak publicly on the family’s behalf. Kelley said the family wants to reassure the Minnesota community the plea deal was done with their blessing and with both the family’s and the greater community’s interests in mind.
“She said, ‘I want people to know Andy Lugar consulted us, presented us with options. Honored our wishes. And we are pleased because a very bad man has been taken off the streets after 27 years. Now we know he will not be able to harm any more children, and we as a family will hopefully be able to find peace in our hearts,’” Kelley said.
As for Doug Kelley himself, the accomplished attorney and former Assistant U.S. Attorney says yesterday was the hardest day in his legal career.
“I’ve been practicing law for 42 years. I’ve prosecuted the mafia. I’ve done murder cases. I’ve done all kinds of cases. Yesterday in court was the hardest day I’ve had in 42 years,” he said.
Kelley said despite not being charged in Wetterling’s murder or an assault of another Cold Spring child, Heinrich felt the impact of those incidents in his sentence. Heinrich is expected to serve 17 years in federal prison for pleading guilty to receiving child pornography. Once he’s released, he’s expected to be civilly committed for the remainder of his life.
”The Wetterlings believe Heinrich will never see the light of day,” Kelley said.