Posts made in November 30th, 2018

Finding the Ocean – Interrupted #2

Before I continue with my “Finding the Ocean” story, I want to acknowledge something pretty big and monumental that happened yesterday. Jared Scheierl, the “other boy” in the Jacob Wetterling case (the one from Cold Spring who was abducted and sexually assaulted just nine months before Jacob), finally got some vindication in his own case.

Yesterday, a Stearns County District Court Judge awarded Jared $17 million in a civil lawsuit against Danny Heinrich. And though Jared will likely never see any of that money since Heinrich has no assets, it was an important win, nonetheless. For Jared, it’s the first time he’s ever had a chance to hold Danny Heinrich accountable for what he did to him on January 13, 1989.

Jared is a good friend and we have been through a lot together on this journey. During the time we were working together and  trying to get answers for both him and the Wetterlings, we knew the statute of limitations had run out on his childhood assault. However, we’d been told there was no statute of limitations on kidnapping, so, all along Jared thought he had a criminal case of his own to pursue. He thought that one day he would have his day in court.

That turned out to be untrue.

In 1989, the year Jared was kidnapped, Minnesota did indeed have a statute of limitations on kidnapping. Unbelievably, it was only three years. On a federal level, the limit was five years. So, either way, the expiration for filing a criminal lawsuit for kidnapping had long since passed by the time Jared and I started looking into his case. That came as a sucker punch when Jared finally learned this hard truth in 2015.

But, thankfully (and somewhat miraculously) he had another option. In 2013, the State of Minnesota enacted the Child Victims Act, a new law that allowed victims of child sexual abuse a three-year window of opportunity to file a civil case, regardless of when the crime had been committed. It was enacted, largely, to address the many cases of clergy abuse that had taken place within the Catholic church. Jared qualified to file a civil lawsuit under this new act, which had a filing deadline of May 25, 2016.

So early in 2016, just months after Danny Heinrich had been arrested on child pornography charges, Jared retained his own lawyer, Doug Kelley, who agreed to represent him pro bono in this case.

That was almost three years ago.

And yesterday, they finally won.

It’s been a long, grueling journey, and I will admit there have been many times I have struggled to understand Jared’s need to move forward with this case. I questioned why he would want to put himself through all the agony if there was no money to be made. But, he was adamant. He wanted his day in court. He felt very strongly that Danny Heinrich needed to be held accountable for what he had done to him.

It took me a long time to understand this, and it probably wasn’t until Jared took the stand in his own civil case that I actually started to get it.

Yesterday’s ruling was important… not only for Jared, but for all victims of childhood sexual assault.

First, it gave Jared some sense of power back. For almost 30 years, he has been a vicim of Danny Heinrich. In 1989, he was powerless to fight back as a 12 year old child, and then, because of ridiculous and outdated laws, he was also powerless to fight back as an adult. That all changed yesterday. Of course, Jared is well aware he will likely never see any of that $17 million, but he can rest easy knowing that Danny Heinrich will never be able to profit from what he did to him, or Jacob, or any of his other victims… not now nor any time in the future.

Second, this ruling sends a strong message. As Minnesotans, it says we will not stand for this. Aside from the physical harm and trauma that results from childhood sexual assault, there is now a clear price to pay for the lifetime of healing these children are forced to navigate and endure. It tells future perpetrators, yeah, maybe you can plea down your sentence or get out early for good behavior, but here’s the deal. You took away an innocent childhood and there is a real, monetary price for that. You brought in darkness, and confusion, and fear where there was once happiness, and wonder, and joy. You have forever altered the path of a child who will now experience a lifetime of hurt as they try to process, adjust, and overcome.

You did that, Danny Heinrich.

And for that, you will pay.

Gotcha.


Next… Finding the Ocean – Chapter 10…

 

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