MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Daniel James Heinrich, the man who confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling more than 27 years ago, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, officials said.
U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim sentenced Heinrich, 53, to 20 years in federal prison as part of a previous plea agreement reached in September in which Heinrich pleaded guilty to one count of child pornography.
Heinrich said he was "truly sorry for the evil acts" he committed and for the shame he brought to his own family during a brief statement he delivered during a sentencing hearing on Monday.
"Mr. and Mrs. Wetterling, the heinous acts of selfishness are unforgivable ... I'm so sorry," Heinrich said.
Heinrich could first be eligible for release in 17 years but Tunheim told him it would be "unlikely that society will let you go free." After release from prison, Heinrich will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender under court-ordered supervision.
Friends and family of Wetterling also delivered statements in the court room -- some addressing Heinrich directly.
"Heinrich took away a wonderful human being, who wanted to grow up to be a football player, but mostly just wanted to grow up," Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother, said. "You didn't need to kill him. He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to go home."
"I miss Jacob so very much," Jerry Wetterling, Jacob's father, said. "It wasn't just Jacob's physical body missing these last 27 years. More importantly, I miss the things I never got to experience."
Jacob vanished from his hometown of St. Joseph on Oct. 22, 1989, touching off a cold case mystery that went unsolved for 27 years. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a philanthropic and advocacy group, was created in his memory.
The Wetterling family's advocacy led to the 1994 passage in Minnesota of the Jacob Wetterling Act, which established the first state sex offender registry in the nation.
Eric DuVall contributed to this report.