Updated: 5:09 p.m. | Posted: 5:47 a.m.
A Wisconsin man pleaded guilty Wednesday to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs, killing her parents and holding her captive in a remote cabin for three months, in a move that spares the girl and her family from the possible trauma of having to testify at his trial.
Jake Patterson, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping. Patterson faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced May 24; Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
Patterson's lawyer, Richard Jones, said his client wanted to plead guilty since the first day they met.
Patterson stoically answered "yes" and "yeah" to repeated questions from Barron County Judge James Babler about whether he understood what he was doing. Later, as he responded "guilty," to each count, he could be heard sniffling. He paused for several seconds after the judge asked him about the kidnapping charge before stuttering, "guilty."
Before you keep reading ...
MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.
Members of the Closs family and Patterson's father and sister all left the courthouse without commenting.
Under the terms of the agreement, a burglary charge tied to the Closs case was dropped. Prosecutors in Douglas County where Jayme was held for 88 days also agreed not to file any other criminal charges against Patterson, a move widely seen as aiming to spare Jayme's privacy.
University of Wisconsin law professor Cecelia Klingele praised that decision, saying it would have been unnecessary "piling on." She said people may be interested in salacious details, but there's no public right to know details of a crime victim's suffering.
Earlier this month, Patterson wrote in his jailhouse letter to KARE-TV that he intended to plead guilty because he didn't want Jayme's family "to worry about a trial," the station said.
Patterson told authorities that he decided "to take" Jayme Closs after seeing her getting on a school bus near her home, a criminal complaint says. He's accused of killing her parents, James and Denise Closs, on Oct. 15 at the family home near Barron, about 90 miles northeast of Minneapolis. He then allegedly threw Jayme into the trunk of his car and drove to a remote cabin, where authorities say he held her for 88 days until she escaped Jan. 10.
Patterson was charged with two counts of intentional homicide and one count each of kidnapping and armed burglary.
Jayme told police that the night she was abducted, she was asleep in her room when the family dog started barking, the criminal complaint says. She woke her parents as a car came up the driveway.
She and her mother hid in the bathroom, clutching one another in the bathtub with the shower curtain pulled shut. They heard Jayme's father get shot as he went to the front door. Patterson then found Jayme. He told detectives he wrapped tape around her mouth and head, taped her hands behind her back and taped her ankles together, then shot her mother in the head.
During her time in captivity, Patterson forced Jayme to hide under a bed when he had friends over and penned her in with tote boxes and weights, warning that if she moved, "bad things could happen to her." He also turned up the radio so visitors couldn't hear her, according to the complaint.
Authorities searched for Jayme for months and collected more than 3,500 tips. In January, she escaped when Patterson was away from the cabin and flagged down a woman who was walking her dog for help. Patterson was arrested minutes later.
Patterson grew up in the cabin where he held Jayme. He wrote in his high school yearbook of plans to join the Marines after graduation, but he was kicked out barely a month after joining up. He struggled to hold down a job after that, working just a single day at a turkey plant in Barron in 2016 before quitting.
Jayme's parents worked at the same turkey plant, but there's nothing to indicate they knew Patterson. In the criminal complaint, Patterson told investigators he spotted Jayme while heading to work at a cheese factory where he quit after two days.
The day Jayme escaped, Patterson had applied online for a job at a liquor store with a resume that misrepresented his experience.
Since her escape, Jayme has been living with an aunt in Barron, out of public view but for a handful of pictures showing a smiling Jayme posted to the aunt's Facebook page.
Laura Tancre, of nearby Star Prairie, Wis., said she was relieved by Patterson's plea and "happy for the little girl." Tancre, 57, worked at turkey plant with Jayme's parents and called them "very nice people."
"I think he should get life for killing both parents," she said. "I'd hate for him to get out and be able to do it again."
Correction (March 27, 2019): An earlier version of this story misspelled Barron County Judge James Babler's name.