- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Attorneys for a man authorities have called a person of interest in the 1989 kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling went to court Wednesday trying to suppress evidence that led to his being charged with possession of child pornography in a separate case.

Danny Heinrich, 53, of Annandale, has pleaded not guilty to the federal child pornography charges. He’s due to go on trial in July. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois said at the close of a two-hour hearing Wednesday that the date might get pushed back if the evidentiary issues aren’t resolved in time.

Heinrich is not charged in the disappearance of Jacob, who was abducted from near his home in St. Joseph. Heinrich has denied any involvement in the Wetterling case, which remains one of Minnesota’s highest-profile unsolved crimes. But investigators found child porn in Heinrich’s home when they searched it last July while pursuing leads in the kidnapping case. The seized items included 19 three-ring binders that contained pictures of naked boys.

The former lead investigator on the Wetterling case, recently retired Stearns County sheriff’s Capt. Pam Jensen, testified that investigators early last year found Heinrich’s DNA on the sweatshirt of a 12-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted nine months before Jacob’s abduction.

Authorities were taking a fresh look at both cases, which they suspected were connected. Investigators used the DNA to get a warrant to search Heinrich’s home for evidence in the two cases.

Chief Federal Defender Katherian Roe questioned Jensen on whether she had a reasonable basis, at the time when her department got the search warrant, for believing that Heinrich could still be prosecuted for the attack on the 12-year-old.

Jensen acknowledged that she knew the state statute of limitations had already expired. But she testified that she understood from federal authorities and the county attorney that it might still be possible to prosecute him under federal law. FBI Special Agent Shane Ball backed her up when he testified Wednesday. However, federal prosecutors ultimately decided they couldn’t charge Heinrich in the rape case.

Brisbois said he won’t issue his recommendations on whether to suppress the search evidence and statements that Heinrich made to investigators until after attorneys file more briefs in the coming weeks.

The statements include comments Heinrich made to Jensen while investigators searched his house. “He said that we were going to find some pretty damning things on his computer,” she testified.

Once Brisbois makes his recommendations, the decision on whether to admit the evidence will be up to the judge handling the trial, Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim.

The defense has also asked to move the trial outside of Minnesota due to pretrial publicity. Defense attorney Reynaldo Aligada said during the hearing that he’ll file additional papers to support that motion, including news accounts of the child pornography case, which has generated intense coverage due to the link with the Wetterling case.

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