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Luger makes case for the deal with Heinrich in Wetterling case

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U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger
File photo of Andrew Luger, U.S. attorney for the state of Minnesota, Oct. 15, 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News File 2015

Updated 11:40 a.m. | Posted 8:53 a.m.

U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger on Wednesday defended the plea deal prosecutors struck with Danny Heinrich that allowed for the discovery of Jacob Wetterling's remains.

After 27 years, the Wetterling family finally learned the fate of Jacob on Tuesday when Heinrich confessed to abducting the 11-year-old boy in 1989 near his home in St. Joseph, Minn., then  sexually abusing and killing him.

Heinrich was arrested last October on 25 counts of child pornography. He pleaded guilty to one of those charges Tuesday in exchange for his confession and information leading to Jacob's remains. 

The deal was the only way to get Heinrich to lead them to Jacob, Luger told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.

Heinrich's expected 20-year prison sentence on the child pornography charge, Luger added, is likely more than he would have received had he been convicted in state court for murder — and there was no evidence to charge him with murder without his confession.

Luger added that he would not have gone forward with the plea deal unless the Wetterling family supported it.

"Everyone agreed that we had to grab this opportunity, it may never come again," Luger said. 

"If we passed up this opportunity, we never found out what happened to Jacob, I'm not sure I could sleep with myself at night," he added. "This was too important to the family. Too important to Minnesota."

Wurzer also spoke with Rick Thornton, the FBI special agent in charge of the Minneapolis Division, who also played a central role in brokering the deal and recovering Jacob's remains.

To hear the full conversation, click the play button   above.