Saying he believed defendant Jake T. Patterson to be “one of the most dangerous men ever to walk this planet,” Barron County Circuit Court Judge James Babler sentenced Patterson to a pair of consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of James and Denise Closs, and another 40-year term (25 years of confinement and 15 years of “extended supervision”) for the kidnapping of their daughter, Jayme, during a sentencing hearing Friday, May 24, 2019.
The decision was handed down at the end of an emotional two-hour hearing that included — for the first time — the playing of the 911 call made by Denise Closs on the night the crimes were committed, early on the morning of Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, when Patterson forced his way into the family’s rural Barron home.
Members of the Closs family made statements to the court before sentencing was imposed. Attorney Chris Gramstrup, representing an absent Jayme Closs, read a statement from the girl Patterson kidnapped and held in a remote Douglas County home for 88 days.
A weeping Patterson told the court that he couldn’t “take back what I did. There’s nothing I can do to bring (his victims) back. I am so sorry.”
A statement was made during a press conference immediately following the hearing by Jayme’s aunt, Jennifer Smith, who, along with her husband, Bob, have cared for Jayme in since her escape in January.
“We are satisfied with the outcome and believe it will give Jayme (closure),” Smith said. “She has made a great deal of progress, but has much more left to do. We appreciate the time and space the media has given us.”
The press conference also included statements by District Attorney Brian Wright, who thanked Babler for rendering the sentence Wright had recommended in court, and from Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, who said how much he appreciated the efforts of law enforcement officers in Wisconsin and throughout the country.
Emotions run high as family members speak
There were six statements by members of the Closs family as the hearing began.
Sue Allard described the phone call telling her that her sister and brother-in-law were dead and Jayme was missing.
“Jayme lost everything,” Allard said. “My sister and her husband died trying to protect their family.”
Lindsey Smith, niece of James and Denise, told the court that Patterson was “one extremely terrible person. You took her parents, home and childhood,” Smith said.
Jennifer Smith, Jayme’s aunt and now her guardian, told Patterson: “You have taken so much from myself and my family. We don’t feel safe.”
She said she and Denise would make no new memories together, but Smith said the family refused to let Patterson deny them future happiness.
Kelly Engelhardt, James’ sister, spoke amid tears. She described a man who worked hard for 27 years at Jennie-O Turkey Store to support his family. She said the 88 days that Jayme was missing were filled with questions about whether she was hungry or scared.
“It is the hardest to see your family members suffer.” Englehardt said.
Mike Closs, brother of James, recounted learning of his brother and sister-in-law’s deaths and then having to tell his mother her son was dead.
“The hardest thing I’ve had to do,” Mike Closs said.
Most visibly affected was Jeff Closs, brother of James. “He terrorized my niece,” he said of Patterson.
Chris Gramstrup, an attorney for the family, read a statement from Jayme.
“Last October, Jake Patterson took a lot of things that I love from me,” the statement read. “I loved my mom and dad very much and they loved me very much.”
Her parents and her home were the most important things in life … but now, they … were gone. “He took them away from me in a way that will always leave me with a horrifying memory,” she said.
Jayme said she can’t go out in public without anxiety, and cannot sleep without an alarm nor enjoy the things of a normal life.
“He can’t take my freedom. He thought 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, but he will not,” Jayme’s statement said.
“He can’t ever change me, or take away who I am. He can’t stop me from being happy and moving forward with my life. I will go on to do great things in my life, and he will not,” she said, adding he no longer had power over her.
“He stole my parents from me. He stole almost everything I loved from me. For 88 days he tried to steal me, and he didn’t care who he hurt or who he killed to do that,” Jayme said. “He should stay locked up forever.”
In his summation, District Attorney Brian Wright described how Patterson had been planning to kidnap a girl and the steps he took to do so, including concealing his identity, changing license plates on his car, shaving and bathing so no DNA would be left behind.
Wright described the night of Oct. 15, 2018, showing photos of the shotgun, three unspent slug shells, the front door that had been shot after James was shot dead through the window and the bathroom door that had been broken through.
In the 911 recording, there was yelling and muffled sounds before the call ended. “He took the phone away,” Wright said. “He said he wouldn’t hurt them if they did what he said.”
After tying Jayme up with tape, Patterson killed Denise with Jayme still in the room.
Wright showed a photo of the space under a bed where Jayme was kept for 88 days in Patterson’s home. She was imprisoned there for up to 12 hours at a time, Wright said, but because of Jayme’s will to survive, she escaped.
Wright said Patterson told police that if he had returned to his home sooner, he could have stopped her. He was a danger to Jeanne Nutter, who found Jayme after she escaped, and Kristin and Peter Kasinskas, at whose home they waited for the arrival of police.
“Exhilarating” phone calls
In an email sent Tuesday, May 28, Wright described how Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald “raced into my office (on the night of Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019) and told me they found Jayme.
“After a quick discussion, I learned that Jayme had escaped and she was now in police protection,” he added. “I then made two of the most exhilarating phone calls I have made in my career. First, I called O’Boyle (assistant district attorney) and reminded him that I had previously said I would call him after hours for only one reason.”
Wright also called his other assistant district attorney, John Rafa Todd. All three gathered at the Justice Center to start their work on the case.
Wright said the assistance of the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office was vital.
“(They) took the lead compiling all of the discovery that was associated with this case,” he said. “The number of documents was huge because of the length of the investigation and the number of leads that were followed up.”
The state office also took the lead on handling media questions and requests for information.
Assistant Attorney General Annie Jay “was involved in all major decisions involving the prosecution of the Patterson case,” Wright said. “I won’t discuss specifics, but (I) can say we incorporated her suggestions and input in many of the decisions we made, not because we had to but because they were best for the case.”
After her escape, Jayme Closs was interviewed by a Barron County Sheriff’s detective, but Wright declined to comment on whether the information from the interview was shared with Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf’s office, or what role it may or may not have played in Patterson’s guilty pleas.
“I won’t comment (on the question) other than to say (Fruehauf) and I communicated on how best to proceed with the prosecution of this case,” Wright said.
Press conference winds up case
Roughly 50 media representatives gathered for a post-sentencing press conference immediately following the Patterson sentencing.
After Jennifer Smith’s statement, Wright said the sentence “assures (that) Jake Patterson will spend the rest of life in prison.
After thanking his assistants and the Attorney General’s office, Wright also said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department’s prompt response to a 911 call after Jayme’s escape was a key to breaking the case.
“Jayme overcame incredible odds to escape and return home,” he added.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald began by saying: “Thank you will never be enough.
“We set two goals (for ourselves),” he continued. “Bring Jayme home, (and obtain) closure and justice for Denise and James.”
He thanked the Closs family “for putting up with us and for your patience.”
To the officers who worked on the investigation, Fitzgerald asked them to “thank your own families, when you go home tonight, for their time and sacrifice.”