Victim of Wetterling killer testifies about deep scars left by assault

Jared Scheierl talks to reporters after testifying in court.
Jared Scheierl talks to reporters in St. Cloud Friday, October 19, 2018 after the civil trial in his lawsuit against Danny Heinrich, who kidnapped and assaulted Scheierl when he was 12.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Updated: Oct. 21, 8 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 19, 6 p.m.

It took almost 30 years, but Jared Scheierl finally had his day in court.

Nearly three decades after a man grabbed 12-year-old Scheierl as he was walking home, forced him into a car, assaulted him and threatened to kill him, Scheierl was able to tell a judge how the ordeal left him with a lifetime of scars.

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In an emotional hearing in the civil lawsuit he filed against his abductor, Danny Heinrich, Scheierl spoke about the fear, anxiety and depression that's plagued him ever since the assault, affecting his work, his marriage and his children.

Jared Scheierl testifies in lawsuit against Danny Heinrich.
Jared Scheierl testifies in his lawsuit against Danny Heinrich, who admitted to sexually assaulting and killing Jacob Wetterling nearly 30 years ago, in St. Cloud on Oct. 19, 2018.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

"The events of that day have had a devastating impact on Jared's life," Scheierl's attorney, Doug Kelley, told Judge Andrew Pearson in a St. Cloud courtroom today.

The lawsuit accuses Heinrich of sexual battery and false imprisonment, and seeks more than $50,000 in damages for lost income and the cost of psychological treatment. Kelley said they'll also seek millions of dollars in punitive damages.

Scheierl detailed how on Jan. 13, 1989, he was walking home alone from a local cafe in Cold Spring when Heinrich pulled up and asked him for directions.

Heinrich got out of the car, grabbed him and forced him into the back seat, telling him he had a gun and wasn't afraid to use it.

He drove Scheierl to a remote area, sexually assaulted him and later let him go. Heinrich told Scheierl if the authorities ever got close to finding him, he'd kill Scheierl first.

In the decades following, Scheierl said he suffered from nightmares and fear that his perpetrator was still out there. Exacerbating the effects of the trauma was a feeling that law enforcement didn't believe him.

Scheierl was interviewed repeatedly by investigators, especially after the Wetterling abduction. In one particularly difficult interview on Dec. 11, 1989, less than two months after Jacob went missing, investigators accused Scheierl of knowing his perpetrator, and that there was another boy missing.

"Those words stuck with me forever," he said.

Danny Heinrich
Danny Heinrich
Sherburne County Sheriff's Office

For years, Scheierl thought his case was the only other one linked to the Wetterling abduction. He became obsessed with trying to solve his case, hoping it would lead to answers for the Wetterling family.

Those answers finally came in September 2016, when Heinrich confessed both to Wetterling's killing and to kidnapping and assaulting Scheierl.

However, because the statute of limitations at the time had expired, Heinrich couldn't face criminal charges for the assault.

Scheierl testified how frustration over the lengthy investigation and his inability to receive justice has taken a toll: He's often distracted, he said, which has made working as a plumber difficult. He's left well-paying jobs because of difficulty staying focused.

His ex-wife, Lacey Scheierl, testified about how his pain and compulsion to solve the case led to their divorce. She said Scheierl struggles with trusting people and is overly protective of their three children.

"I think that I lost my marriage because of what happened 29 years ago," she said.

Cory Eskelson, a longtime friend of Scheierl's, had been walking home with him the night he was abducted. They'd parted ways just a few blocks before Scheierl was abducted. Eskelson cried as he testified about how Scheierl went from being a free spirit and happy-go-lucky kid to being reserved and withdrawn.

Patty Wetterling testifies in the lawsuit against Danny Heinrich
Patty Wetterling, the mother of Jacob Wetterling who was assaulted and killed nearly 30 years ago, testified at the Jared Scheierl's civil trial in St. Cloud on Oct. 19, 2018. Scheierl is suing Danny Heinrich. Heinrich assaulted Scheierl and later abducted and killed Wetterling.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Eskelson said the way Scheierl has been consumed with the case has made it difficult to be friends.

"I hope he gets some type of closure from today," Eskelson said.

The final person to testify in the case was Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother. She said her family is extremely grateful to Scheierl for helping to solve Jacob's case. But there's been a "huge price to pay," she said.

Heinrich, who's serving a 20-year sentence at a federal prison in Massachusetts on child pornography charges, wasn't at the trial and did not have an attorney representing him.

Judge Pearson said he would take the case under advisement and issue a decision as quickly as possible.

Kelley called it "a huge day" for Scheierl.

"Jared has been waiting for this day since he was 12 years old," Kelley said "This is the only time that Jared gets to hold Heinrich personally liable for what Heinrich did to him."

Kelley said any judgment likely won't be collected, but that doesn't make it less important.

"It will be symbolic, and it will help hopefully Jared close the door on this chapter of his life," he said.

Correction (Oct. 21, 2018): An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount of money Jared Scheierl is seeking in damages for lost income and the cost of psychological treatment.