The Jacob Wetterling abduction

Rassier lawyers want to talk to Wetterling killer for lawsuit against Stearns County

Daniel Rassier speaks at a press conference.
Daniel Rassier recounts some of his interactions with the Stearns County Sherriff's Office during a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2016 in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Sam Harper for MPR News

Attorneys for a man wrongly named a "person of interest" in Jacob Wetterling's abduction want to talk to the man who confessed to killing Wetterling 29 years ago in St. Joseph, Minn.

In a motion filed Tuesday in federal court, Dan Rassier's attorneys argue that they should be allowed to depose Danny Heinrich, who is serving a 20-year sentence for child pornography at a federal prison in Ayer, Mass.

In 2010, then-Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner publicly called Rassier a "person of interest" in the county's investigation into Wetterling's disappearance. Authorities got a search warrant to dig up the Rassier family's property, which is near the site where Wetterling was abducted.

Rassier was cleared two years ago, when Heinrich confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Jacob in October 1989 and led authorities to the boy's remains on a Paynesville farm.

Rassier and his mother, Rita, sued Sanner, Stearns County and two investigators shortly after, claiming Dan Rassier's rights were violated.

Last December, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank dismissed Rassier's claims of unlawful search and seizure. He also dismissed claims against Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Ken McDonald.

But Frank let stand Rassier's claims that Sanner defamed him and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

The motion filed Tuesday refers to information from the Wetterling investigative case file, which was publicly released in September.

Among its arguments is that the Stearns County Sheriff's Office failed to "connect the dots" between Wetterling's disappearance and an attempted abduction of a 9-year-old boy on July 3, 1989, in St. Joseph Township, just a few miles from where Wetterling was kidnapped less than four months later.

The Rassiers' attorneys said in the filing that they want to ask Heinrich several questions, including whether he's responsible for the July 1989 abduction attempt, whether he drove down the Rassiers' driveway the day Wetterling was abducted and what vehicles he used.

Jason Hively, an attorney representing Stearns County, said in an email statement that Heinrich has "nothing to say that could be relevant in any way" to the Rassiers' remaining claims.

"Deposing him is a theatrical, attention-grabbing and pointless endeavor," Hively wrote.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Dec. 12 in Fergus Falls.

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