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Wetterling family apologizes before release of kidnap/murder files

Jacob Wetterling Jacob Wetterling

Parents fought to keep documents private but media won their release in court.

Posted: Sep. 19, 2018 7:34 PM

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — The parents of Jacob Wetterling apologized to anyone affected when investigative files on the 1989 abduction and killing of their son are released.

The Wetterling family issued a statement Wednesday saying, "Our hearts are hurt for anyone who is pained or hurt from the release of this file." Stearns County authorities plan to release their investigative files to the public Thursday.

Jacob Wetterling was 11 when he was abducted by a masked gunman near his St. Joseph home. In 2016, Danny Heinrich confessed to killing Jacob and led investigators to his remains. In a deal with prosecutors, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for child pornography.

The family's statement said it is "difficult for us to relive those dark days. With time, our family is healing and getting stronger and we appreciate all of the efforts to make things better for future victims of crime, their families and for all of us."

Jacob's parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, fought to keep some documents private. But media organizations persuaded a judge that the documents were public information under state law because the investigation was over.

The Star Tribune reported it was unclear how many pages will be released. Initial estimates said more than 56,000 pages were contained in the file, but the federal government successfully sought the return of documents originated by the FBI.

News organizations and open government groups argued for releasing the entire Wetterling file. One of the plaintiffs was the Silha Centre for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota.

"I can't deny there may be people who will be embarrassed or hurt" by the content, said professor Jane Kirtley, who leads the center. But she said of greater importance is public interest in oversight of law enforcement.

"This was hardly some obscure case, it captivated the public attention," Kirtley said.

The Wetterlings' attorney, Doug Kelley, argued that state law, like federal law, should provide victims authority to shield investigative documents from the public.

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