Stearns County judge awards Heinrich sexual assault victim $17 million in damages
A man sexually assaulted nearly three decades ago by a predator who later went on to abduct, molest and kill Jacob Wetterling has been awarded more than $17 million in damages by a Stearns County judge.
Jared Scheierl was just 12 years old when he was walking home after ice skating and eating a malt in Cold Spring, Minn. in early 1989 when Danny Heinrich pulled up in his car and snatched the boy off the street, threatening that he had a gun. He assaulted Scheierl in the back seat of his car.
For the rest of his life, Scheierl testified at an October hearing, he became consumed with finding the predator and was plagued with nightmares, depression and anxiety that affected his marriage, his job and his social life.
Heinrich admitted in 2016 to Scheierl’s assault as well as Wetterling’s abduction and murder as part of a plea bargain to federal child pornography charges. New DNA testing linked Heinrich to a spot on a sweatshirt that Scheierl was wearing during his assault.
With the statute of limitations barring prosecution for Scheierl’s assault, Scheierl sued Heinrich for unspecified punitive damages.
“How does this court put a value on the diminished quality of life that Mr. Scheierl lived as a result of Mr. Heinrich’s act?” wrote Stearns County District Judge Andrew Pearson in a 10-page order. “It’s been said that a human life is worth more than all the treasures of the world.”
In the end, Pearson found Heinrich — in federal prison on child pornography charges after a plea deal — liable for $10 million in punitive damages, pointing to the seriousness and intentional cruelty of his crime, the length of time he concealed it and the fact that he will never be prosecuted for Scheierl’s assault or Wetterling’s assault and murder. Other damages include $5 million for pain, suffering, embarrassment and emotional distress, and more than $2 million in compensatory damages for lost income, future lost earning capacity and counseling fees.
“This amount is necessary to punish Mr. Heinrich and deter others like him from acting similarly,” the judge wrote. “It is not excessive based on the unique circumstances of this case and is in line with awards in other cases from Minnesota and elsewhere.”
It is unlikely Heinrich, now serving a 20-year term in a federal prison, will ever be able to pay the damages.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102