MINNEAPOLIS - At a pretrial hearing Wednesday in the child-pornography case against Danny Heinrich, defense attorneys peppered law enforcement officials with questions about what they knew and when.

The questions came during arguments for a motion to suppress evidence found during a search of Heinrich’s house in Annandale in July 2015.

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According to the affidavit submitted with the search warrant, a DNA match connected Heinrich with the 1989 assault and abduction of a boy from Cold Spring. Heinrich, 53, has been also identified as “a person of interest” in the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling.

But Heinrich’s attorneys, chief federal public defender for Minnesota Katherian Roe and assistant federal public defender Reynaldo Aligada, argued in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that investigators should have known the statute of limitations on the Cold Spring case had expired.

Retired Stearns County sheriff’s office Capt. Pam Jensen, one of two witnesses called to testify, said she and other law enforcement officials believed the Cold Spring case could still be prosecuted.

When asked what the basis for her belief was, Jensen replied: “Talking to other officers, the county attorney and maybe being naive.”

FBI Agent Shane Ball faced intense questioning about a conversation he said he had with Nelson and other officers regarding the statute of limitations in the 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of 12-year-old Jared Scheierl in Cold Spring, nine months before Wetterling’s abduction.

Ball said it “looked like” the statute would cover Scheierl’s case.

“It did? What section?” Roe asked.

Roe repeatedly questioned Ball about when and where the conversation took place.

“You’re not sure when it occurred. You’re not sure where it occurred. You’re not sure who else was there. You’re not even sure if it was in person. But you’re sure it occurred. Did I get that right?” Roe said.

Most of the two-hour hearing involved the testimony of Jensen, who worked for the Stearns County sheriff’s office from 1990 until she retired Jan. 20.

Jensen, who testified for 75 minutes, talked about conversations she and a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent had with Heinrich on July 28 at his place of employment, Buffalo Plywood and Veneer, and at a gazebo outside his house while the house was being searched. They talked to him again, she said, when they went to his house in October to return “tubs” of VHS tapes of movies and TV shows that belonged to him.

Heinrich’s attorneys are arguing that some of the statements he made on those days should be thrown out.

Nelson said that Heinrich told investigators on July 28 that they would find “some pretty damning things on his computer in his residence.”

Prosecutors played a four-minute audio recording from the July 28 conversation investigators had with Heinrich at his workplace.

As the secret recording was played, Heinrich, who was dressed in government-issued orange shirt, pants and slip-on shoes, sat with his hands in his lap.

On the recording, Heinrich asks to see the search warrant and can be heard thumbing through the pages and sighing loudly.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, hold on,” he said at one point. “Well, I’ve got all kinds of knives. I collect them, for Christ’s sake. This is bull--, people.”

When Nelson asks if he has a computer, he responds: “Yes, I do, but I’m not on the Internet.”

When officials ask Heinrich to leave work and take them to his house so they don’t have to get a locksmith or break down his front door, he agrees.

When asked about Heinrich’s demeanor, Jensen testified that he was “a little agitated, a little apprehensive,” but cooperative.

Nelson also testified that Heinrich had “two or three” beers during the six-hour search of his home, and that he and the officers shared “mostly small talk, talking about his collections, his cats, his parents, etc.”

 

Change of venue

Another motion discussed Wednesday was Heinrich’s attorneys’ request for a change of venue for the trial because of pretrial publicity. They said they will be submitting newspaper stories as evidence in support of that motion.

Heinrich has pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography.

Heinrich’s trial is scheduled to start July 11, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois said Wednesday that the date might get pushed back. Brisbois said he would not rule on motions for a change of venue or suppressing evidence until after attorneys file more briefs.

Heinrich, who is being held in the Stearns County Jail in St. Cloud, does not face any charges in Wetterling’s abduction and continues to deny any involvement in the case.

Authorities, who searched his home for ties to Wetterling’s disappearance, found child porn and photos and videos of young boys. The images spanned decades, but photos of Wetterling were not among them, investigators said.

Investigators have long believed the attack on Scheierl was related to Wetterling’s kidnapping and to unsolved sexual assaults on eight young boys in Paynesville, Minn., from 1986 to 1988.

Wetterling was taken less than a mile from his home in St. Joseph, which is about 20 miles from Paynesville.

Heinrich was questioned in 1989 and 1990 about the disappearance, but authorities say he has denied any involvement.

Wetterling was with his brother and a friend Oct. 22, 1989, when a masked gunman abducted him from a rural road. Authorities decided to take a fresh look at the case last year.