BARRON, Wis. — Jake Thomas Patterson took away so much of what Jayme Closs loved.
Her parents. Her home. Her love for school, dance and hanging out with friends.
But there are some things Patterson will never take, the 13-year-old told a judge Friday, May 24.
“He can't take my freedom,” she said in a statement read in court. “He thought that he could own me, but he was wrong. I was smarter. I watched his routine and took back my freedom. I will always have my freedom and he will not.”
That was confirmed when Patterson, 21, learned that he will die in prison.
In sentencing the Douglas County man to two consecutive life terms without parole, plus an additional 25 years in prison, Barron County Circuit Judge James Babler called Patterson “one of the most dangerous men to ever walk on this planet.”
“You are the embodiment of evil and the public will only be safe if you are incarcerated until you die,” the judge told him at the conclusion of a two-hour hearing.
Patterson pleaded guilty in March to kidnapping and two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the Oct. 15 abduction of Jayme and the shooting deaths of her parents, James and Denise Closs.
Even Patterson’s attorneys acknowledged that he would never again be a free man, but argued he has shown remorse and should receive consideration for his decision to plead guilty from the beginning.
“I would do absolutely anything to take back what I did,” Patterson told the judge. “I would die. I would do absolutely anything to bring them back. I don't care about me. I'm just so sorry.”
James and Denise Closs were hardworking parents who loved their only child more than anything else in life, five family members told the judge in pleading the maximum sentence.
The couple long worked at the Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron. They’d spend summers at the lake, attend family gatherings and go to church every Sunday.
James, 56, was an avid Green Bay Packers fan and loved his weekly phone calls with his mother. Denise, 46, was almost inseparable from her daughter, relatives recalled.
“We no longer get to make memories with them; only hold on to the ones we have,” said Denise’s sister, Jennifer Smith. “Jayme no longer gets to have her parents, who were her whole world. She no longer gets to have her home, her bedroom, her belongings — all that stuff is just bad memories to her. You have taken all that and more. It can't be replaced. She lives in fear and doesn't have a normal 13-year-old life.”
Jayme, who is set to soon graduate from middle school, did not personally attend the hearing. Her written statement was read by an attorney representing the family.
Family members recalled the horror of waking to the news that James and Denise were murdered and that Jayme was missing. They said they were never able to properly mourn their loved ones, wondering for nearly three months whether Jayme was still alive.
“We didn't know who was involved, if we were in danger,” said Kelly Engelhardt, sister of James Closs. “It was extremely exhausting. You never go to bed for 88 days knowing that your niece is out there somewhere. How do you go to bed at night wondering if she’s hungry, if she's scared, and have to do that for 88 days?”
Relatives noted that both parents died protecting their daughter. James, checking into a suspicious car that pulled into the family’s driveway, was shot in the entryway almost immediately by Patterson. Denise, hiding in a bathtub with Jayme and attempting to call 911, was gunned down in her daughter’s presence.
“My parents raised us just to be good, hard-working people, to do the right thing,” said Mike Closs. “Jim and Denise were doing the right thing, and they didn’t get treated fairly that day.”
Patterson was “thinking about kidnapping a girl for several months and just waiting for the right opportunity,” Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said.
The prosecutor recited the excruciating details of the crimes in asking the judge to impose the consecutive sentences as recommended by the probation agent who conducted a presentence investigation.
Wright noted how Patterson shaved his head, made modifications to his car and intentionally chose Jayme after seeing her get on the school bus one day because the residence on the outskirts of town provided little chance of getting caught. He described how Patterson used a shotgun to kill both parents at point-blank range because he did not want to leave behind any witnesses.
“Mr. Patterson is a cold-blooded killer who traumatized a 13-year-old girl for 88 days,” the prosecutor said. “He brutally murdered James and Denise because they stood in the way of his getting away with kidnapping the girl he saw getting out of school bus — a girl whose name he didn't even know when he kidnapped her.”
That Patterson was caught was “not because of anything the defendant did, but because of Jayme's courage and will to survive,” Wright said, recounting how she escaped from Patterson’s rural Gordon home and ran to safety while he was away on Jan. 10.
“Jayme summoned the strength and courage of the bravest among us and decided that no matter what happened to her, she was going to try and get away,” Wright said.
The district attorney said Patterson has “no empathy or remorse for killing James and Denise.” His assertion that he’s a “good person” makes him “extremely dangerous,” Wright said.
Defense: Patterson took responsibility
Public defender Charles Glynn acknowledged that anything he had to say would likely fall on “deaf ears for most people, and even hostile ears for many people,” but asked the judge to set aside emotional and political pressures involved in the case.
Glynn and fellow defense attorney Richard Jones asked Babler to take into account Patterson’s cooperation with law enforcement and his “unprecedented” decision to accept a life sentence from the moment they met, before he even made his first court appearance.
The defense asked the judge to sentence Patterson’s homicide convictions concurrently, with opportunity for parole in 2072, followed by an additional 25 years on the kidnapping charge. That would make him at least 100 years old before he is eligible for release.
Having a potential release date provides opportunities for Wisconsin prison inmates to receive therapy and other services to better themselves that those without parole are not entitled to, the defense attorneys said.
“Again, Jake Patterson is never getting out of prison,” Glynn said. “He accepts that and understands that, but this court can fashion a sentence in a way that does give him some programmatic possibilities.”
Glynn said the presentence investigation agent fell victim to the emotion of the case and attempted to inappropriately diagnose with Patterson with “sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies.”
He said the defense had Patterson interviewed by a psychologist, who found no diagnosable mental illness.
Patterson “severely overreacted to his loneliness and resulting disconnection from most people due to self-imposed isolating behaviors,” that expert concluded, according to Jones. “His criminal actions were a desperate attempt to inject some meaning into his life and give him a reason to live, without regard to the harm it would cause others.”
Patterson described fantasies
Babler, in imposing the consecutive life terms, said he had “no idea what rehabilitation could be provided” for Patterson.
The judge cited comments the defendant was quoted as making in his jail cell, describing how his wild fantasies morphed into an actual plot to kidnap a girl.
“I started having bad thoughts all the time — fantasies of keeping a young girl prisoner, torturing her and totally controlling her. At first, I fought them. I had no reason to live and doing this was the only thing I wanted, but I was Christian. Fear of hell was the only thing that was stopping me. After a while, I stopped believing in God and I stopped fighting my fantasies. I thought about it every day.”
In the statement, Patterson went on to describe driving around, looking for a random girl to kidnap. He eventually concluded it would have to be a home invasion at night. He grappled with whether he’d kill witnesses, but ultimately decided “it wasn’t a moral problem.”
“I knew if I killed them, it would bring a lot more attention,” the judge quoted him as saying. “But if I let them live, there would be good witnesses. I finally decided it didn’t matter how much attention it got if I left no evidence or witnesses. If they sent 1,000 FBI agents if they had nothing to go on.”
Patterson reportedly said he “planned on taking multiple girls and killing multiple families.” He said he wanted to “play mind games with them” and “also just wanted to scare people.”
“I hated everyone but no one in particular,” he reportedly said. “Everyone I know I actually liked but I hated society as a whole. I didn’t care if I died if I could get away with having a girl for a week, it was worth dying for. When I saw Jayme, I instantly thought she would be a good target. Actually, mostly, it was she was the first girl I saw once I had those ideas in my head.”
Jayme continues healing
Prosecutors, law enforcement and Jayme’s family applauded the judge’s decision after the hearing.
“Today was a very important step in the process of helping Jayme to move forward,” said Smith, her aunt. “We are satisfied with the outcome and believe that it will give Jayme some much-needed peace of mind.”
Jayme has received countless letters, donations and messages of support as she continues to heal, Smith said.
“Obviously, she has much work left to do,” she said. “She has spent time with her friends, has been doing her homework and of course is hanging out with (her dog) Molly.”
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said he put out 88 days of requests to accomplish two goals: to bring home a missing 13-year-old girl and achieve closure and justice for her parents.
“Jayme led us with her strength and the will to never give up,” Fitzgerald said. “Your smile is now contagious across the world.”
Jayme, who recently was honored at the Wisconsin Legislature in her most public appearance since she returned home, will “very likely have much more to say in the future,” Smith said.