(KMSP) - “Why now?” It’s the question many Minnesotans have been asking over the weekend: if reports are true, why — after 27 years — did Danny Heinrich finally reveal the location of Jacob Wetterling’s remains?
Fox 9 spoke with former and current criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, including a former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota. Almost all agreed that any secrets revealed by Heinrich were the result of a deal.
“I’m going to guess it’s totally self-interest because almost 30 years have gone by and no one overnight develops a conscience or finds religion,” Joe Tamburino, a criminal defense attorney at Caplan & Tamburino, told Fox 9.
If there was a deal, Rachel Paulose, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota from 2006 to 2008 and now an attorney at DLA Piper, gave Fox 9 three bargaining chips held by the government:
1. A reduced sentence on Heinrich’s current federal child porn charges
“The federal government could have offered Mr. Heinrich a reduced sentence, reduced prison time, for the very lengthy sentence he was facing for child pornography charges in exchange for Mr. Heinrich providing information as to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction and murder, and ultimately, his remains,” Paulose said. Heinrich is facing child porn charges unrelated to the Wetterling abduction, although the search that led to the discovery of porn was a search for Wetterling evidence.
2. Waiving, or reduced sentence, on a possible state murder charge
“Law enforcement, federal, and state authorities, cooperating could have agreed to waive charges on Jacob’s murder, on which there is no statute of limitations, or to seek a greatly reduced sentence in exchange for providing information regarding Jacob Wetterling’s abduction and killing,” Paulose said.
3. Allowing Heinrich to serve time in a federal, rather than state, prison
“The government could have allowed Mr. Heinrich to come to a deal where he would serve his time in a less unpleasant federal facility, as opposed to a state facility,” Paulose said.
Paulose and Tamburino agreed that Patty and Jerry Wetterling would have been a part of any decisions related to a possible deal. And the attorneys also believe that any sentence part of a deal would still keep Heinrich in prison for his entire life or almost his entire life.
Other factors might have motivated the timing of any revelation, including the federal child porn trial scheduled for next month. A magistrate recommended all porn evidence, and all statements made by Heinrich, be admitted in the trial. Paulose believes Heinrich may have “seen the writing on the all in terms of what a trial would look like.” If convicted in the child pornography trial, prosecutors would have likely brought up Heinrich’s possible role in the Wetterling abduction when arguing for a touch sentence, Paolose believes.
If there was a deal, then the child porn trial would likely be canceled. The revealing of any deal will likely be announcing in the coming week.