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Wetterling Person Of Interest Fights For His Reputation

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On Monday, a judge will sentence Jacob Wetterling's killer, essentially closing one of Minnesota's most notorious kidnapping cases.

In a courtroom confession, Danny Heinrich admitted he abducted the 11-year-old from St. Joseph in 1989.

Heinrich wasn't the only suspect on law enforcement's radar. Now, an innocent man says his battle against the agency he blames for ruining his reputation is only just beginning.

WCCO was the only news crew there Tuesday night as Dan Rassier got his personal property back from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.

The agency kept it all as evidence after searching his property six years ago.

The property return took place on the same long driveway that so much of the Wetterling story did.

"We've got two cars, same driving pattern, same driver, local person. I kept telling them that," Rassier said.

For decades, Rassier recited what he saw to Stearns County deputies the night Wetterling was kidnapped.

"Common sense would have solved this case day one, the same night," he added.

Instead, Rassier says he lived under a quiet cloud of suspicion across the street from where Wetterling was last seen. He kept talking to investigators, took a lie detector test, and underwent hypnosis.

When Stearns County shifted their focus to abduction on foot they used statements Rassier made over the years as the reason to dig up parts of his family's farm and publicly name him a person of interest.

Dan Rassier
Dan Rassier (credit: CBS)

"I just do everything possible to help them and then have them do what they did to me?," he said.

Rassier says he demanded his property back a few years ago. He says Stearns County turned him down and implied Rassier should move on, saying they've left him alone since that search.

"If that's their attitude, that they can come and cut your chest open and leave you just hanging from a rope in front of the public's eye and pretend they haven't done anything, it makes me sick what they're doing to other people," Rassier said.

After recently hiring an attorney who made the request again, Rassier had his belongings returned Tuesday night.

Items returned include news stories and videos about the abduction, a chair, bags of dirt, and a wooden chest that had been in the family for generations.

"They took [the chest] all apart," he said, as he looked at it in a pile of pieces in the back of a pickup.

Rassier says he knows the items will seem insignificant. However, it's what law enforcement will never be able to return he's really after.

Like what happened when a 3rd grade girl told the longtime music teacher she could no longer be in his classroom anymore if no other students were there.

"Parents are coaching their kids not to trust me," he said. "Just a little window into what happens when police do this."

Stearns County officials say the case remained an open and it couldn't return Rassier's property because of that. As for the condition of the broken chest, deputies say the lab took it apart for testing and it will look into it to see if it can be fixed.

Remember, it took six years for Rassier to have his belongings returned.

In court documents, however, WCCO found that Heinrich had his shoes and tires returned in 1990, just 13 months after they were first taken for testing.

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