Judge orders Wetterling's killer to pay more than $17 million in damages to sexual assault victim

November 29, 2018 10:21 PM

A Stearns County judge has ordered Danny Heinrich to pay more than $17 million to Jared Scheierl, whom he sexually assaulted in 1989 when Scheierl was just 12 years old.

Heinrich, who is now in federal prison on a child pornography conviction after confessing to the murder of Jacob Wetterling, has been ordered to pay $2,044,150 in compensatory damages, $5 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages to Scheierl, of Cold Spring.


Heinrich's ability to pay the damages is virtually impossible since he is in prison with hardly a dollar to his name.

But Scheierl says he was never filing this suit for the money.

"I felt that there had to be some type of accountability on Heinrich's end," he said.  "That's always been my main issue."

"It's been said that a human life is worth more than all the treasures of the world," Judge Andrew Pearson wrote. "Mr. Heinrich's actions on January 13, 1989, when Jared was only a child, directly resulted in immeasurable damages - a life of emotional pain, anguish and preoccupation with finding his abuser."

The court found Heinrich sexually assaulted Scheierl months before he abducted, assaulted and killed Wetterling. As a result of that assault, the judge ruled Scheierl "experienced pain, suffering, partial disability, and psychological consequences including anxiety, depression and sleeplessness."

"The fear, the hatred, the anxiety, that was all directed toward one man my entire life and that's why the civil case was directed at one person," Sheierl said.

Heinrich could never be criminally charged for Scheierl's assault because the statute of limitations had run out.

So Scheierl filed the civil suit, taking the stand to get his story on court record for the first time last month.

"He's kind of a model of someone who did not give up," said Doug Kelley, Scheierl's attorney.  "This is the first time that the legal system has held Heinrich directly liable to Jared."

Sheierl's focus is now on protecting juvenile victims rights, and he says he will continue to make sure victims know their voices need to be heard.

"Will it ever be over, this doesn't make it over, but it's all good," he said.

The Wetterlings credit Scheierl's tireless work for helping bring an end to the search for Jacob.

"He was very brave, and we are so proud of him," Patty Wetterling added by phone.

"He did it for himself, for other victims of sexual assault, and he did it for us," she added.


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For years, Scheierl came back to law enforcement time and time again with new details, new leads and even new potential victims.

The damages ordered by the judge include Scheierl's loss of income due to his time in therapy and assisting in the Wetterling investigation, as well as future earnings and counseling costs.

The court filing said the $10 million in punitive damages was "necessary to punish Mr. Heinrich and deter others like him from acting similarly."

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Paul McEnroe & Anthony Brousseau

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