BARRON, Wis. — The northwestern Wisconsin man charged in the kidnapping of a young teen and the murders of her parents has struck a plea deal in the case involving 13-year-old Jayme Closs.
Jake Patterson's attorneys announced he would plead guilty to the murders of James and Denise Closs, and the kidnapping of 13-year-old Jayme in exchange for an agreement that charges would not be filed in Douglas County, where Patterson held Jayme for nearly 3 months. An additional charge of armed burglary that carried a potential sentence of 15 years was also dropped.
"You understand this plea agreement?" the judge asked Patterson.
The judge asked the defendant if anyone threatened him or made him promises in exchange for signing the guilty plea agreement. Patterson answered with a decisive no. He insisted he was satisfied with the performance of his lawyers.
"Mr. Patterson has wanted to enter a plea since the day we met him," attorney Richard Jones asserted. "We've talked to Jake about options including a court trial, a jury trial, we've talked to him about motions, a change of venue, substitution of judge, a motion to suppress his statements and he's rejected all of that... and decided this is what he wanted to do."
"This is his choice," Jones concluded with resignation. "This is what he wants."
Patterson's sister sat crying as the judge read sentencing information that included two life sentences for murder and 40 years for kidnapping. His father started sobbing as well, as the judge mentioned the two life sentences.
At that point the judge read off the charges, first the murder of Jayme's father James Closs and the second the murder of her mother Denise. He pleaded quickly pleaded guilty to both, his voice breaking. After the judge read the charge involving the kidnapping of Jayme, Patterson hesitated, struggling to breathe.
"Take a deep breath... take a deep breath," his attorney urged.
"Guilty," Patterson finally responded, his voice breaking as he shed tears.
After that the judge immediately set a sentencing hearing for May 24 at 1:30 p.m., in Barron. Veteran prosecutor and KARE 11 legal consultant Tom Heffelfinger says according to Wisconsin law Patterson has until his sentencing hearing to change his mind, but judging from his behavior and decisiveness that is unlikely to happen.
Today's plea does not come as a total surprise, as Patterson told KARE 11's Lou Raguse in a letter he wrote from his jail cell in March that he plans to take responsibility and admit guilt to the murder, kidnapping and armed burglary charges because he doesn't want Jayme's family to "worry about a trial."
Heffelfinger says in cases like this, there is no reason to rush for either prosecutors or Patterson's defense team.
"There is no race to the finish line here. It's simply getting it done right,” he said.
Before a plea happens, Heffelfinger says Patterson's attorneys likely want assurance that prosecutors in Douglas County won't bring more charges, and he says they'll also want to know if he'll serve time for each alleged crime consecutively or all at once. The judge will also be careful to make sure mistakes aren't made.
"He will be asked a series of questions regarding his constitutional rights and whether or not he is satisfied that those rights have been protected,” Heffelfinger said. "It is not uncommon for guilty pleas to become the subject of an appeal, and the court of appeals or even the Wisconsin Supreme Court could look at how this proceeding is being handled and either reverse the guilty plea or not, but it is something everybody involved in this case would like to avoid. All the parties, I'm certain, want to let Jayme Closs put this behind her and move on with her life.”
Heffelfinger adds that there will be a thorough pre-sentence investigation after the plea.
"That will, not only allow people to talk about Mr. Patterson, it also allows Jayme and her family to communicate to the court what they have lost, and the pains they went through," Heffelfinger explained.
The ordeal began early the morning of Oct. 15, 2018, in the community of Barron, when deputies arrived at the Closs home shortly after 1 a.m. and found Jayme's parents, James and Denise Closs, fatally shot. The 13-year-old Jayme was nowhere to be found.
For nearly three months investigators pored over every piece of evidence, every tip and every scenario in trying to find the shy girl who had been taken against her will. It wasn't until the afternoon of Jan. 10, 2019, that Jayme was found by a woman walking her dog after escaping from Patterson's cabin. That woman took the teen to a nearby home and told the owners to call 911. Patterson was arrested shortly afterwards when a deputy spotted him driving around.
As he was being taken into custody deputies say Patterson told them he knew what this (the arrest) was about and "I did it."
Patterson was charged in Barron County with murder, kidnapping and armed burglary. A criminal complaint said he picked Jayme at random, after seeing her climb aboard her school bus while on his way to work at a local cheese plant.
"He knew that was the girl he was going to take," prosecutors alleged.
Investigators and prosecutors in Douglas County, Wisconsin worked to assemble a case against Patterson for criminal acts that occurred there during the nearly three months she was held captive in his cabin. They eventually announced that no further charges would be filed for now, a decision that may have been made out of concern for Jayme's privacy. They did reserve the right to charge him at a later date, but agreed not to as part of the plea deal.