BARRON, Wis. – The man who kidnapped 13-year-old Jayme Closs and murdered her parents will spend the rest of his days in prison without a chance for parole.
Jake Patterson, who turns 22 on June 17, was sentenced in Barron County Circuit Court on Friday for abducting the Barron teenager and gunning down James and Denise Closs. His sentencing hearing comes two months after he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.
“The public can only be safe if you are incarcerated until you die,” Barron County Circuit Judge James Babler said before sentencing Patterson.
Patterson didn’t know the Closs family, nor did he have a prior criminal record in Wisconsin. But in the early hours of Oct. 15, he fatally shot James Closs, 56, through a glass pane on the front door of their home and murdered Denise Closs, 46, in front of her only child. He then dragged Jayme to his car and drove her to the rural Douglas County town of Gordon, where he held her for 88 days.
Deputies escort Jake Patterson to his sentencing Friday, May 24, 2019, in Barron County Circuit Court in Barron, Wis. Patterson will serve life in prison in the October 2018 kidnapping of Jayme Closs and the murders of her parents. (Photo: T'xer Zhon Kha/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
In an emotional hearing Friday, Jayme’s relatives spoke through tears as they told Babler of the fear and heartache Patterson caused them. For months, they didn’t sleep as they wondered what happened to Jayme.
Meanwhile, loved ones grieved the unexpected loss of James and Denise.
“I still think I’m going to wake up someday and this is going to be a bad dream,” said Kelly Engelhardt, James Closs’ sister.
Jayme Closs’ full statement for: ‘He can’t take my freedom’
Public defender Richard Jones, right, comforts Jake Patterson after he pleaded guilty Wednesday in Barron County Circuit Court to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and murdering her parents, James and Denise Closs, at their home in October 2018. (Photo: T'xer Zhon Kha, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
Relatives also recounted how Denise Closs spent her final moments, barricaded in a bathroom to protect her daughter after hearing the gunshot that killed her husband.
“I have terrible nightmares,” said Jennifer Smith, Jayme’s aunt and guardian. “Jayme was my sister Denise’s whole world. I can’t imagine how scared she was.”
Jayme was not in the courtroom Friday, but an attorney read a statement on her behalf. She told the judge she felt safe in her home until Patterson took that and her parents away from her. Now she can’t see her home or belongings without remembering that dark night. She struggles with anxiety when she’s out in public.
“I love my mom and dad very much, and they love me very much,” she said. “They did all they could to make me happy and protect me. He took them away from me forever.”
Jayme Closs case: As kidnapper awaits prison, a Wisconsin town reflects on the bewildering tragedy
Throughout the hearing, Patterson occasionally shifted in his chair and hung his head but showed little emotion, even as District Attorney Brian Wright recounted his grisly crimes in detail. His first emphatic reaction to the proceedings was a vigorous head shake “no” when Wright said Patterson would find Jayme if he gets out of prison.
Before the judge brought down his sentence, Patterson spoke briefly, choking up and saying he would do anything to take back what happened.
“I don’t care about me,” he said. “I’m just so sorry.”
During Jayme’s captivity, Patterson forced her to hide under a twin bed when he had company or left the house. He threatened and yelled at her. He once hosted a Christmas gathering for his relatives, who were unaware a scared girl was hiding in the other room.
Jayme escaped on Jan. 10, pushing away weighted bins around the bed and putting on a pair of Patterson’s ill-fitting tennis shoes. She stumbled upon a social worker out walking her dog, who took Jayme to another neighbor’s house to call 911.
According to Wright, Patterson realized Jayme wasn’t under the bed and “knew he was f—ed.” He was arrested a short time later.
Patterson told investigators with painstaking detail the lengths he went to abduct Jayme. He decided to kidnap the teen after watching her board a school bus less than two weeks before he’d kill James and Denise Closs to get to her.
Under a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop his armed-burglary charge, and to not charge Patterson with any crimes related to Jayme’s captivity in Douglas County. That means some details of what Jayme endured in those 88 days may never be released.
May 15: 2019: Jayme Closs, who was kidnapped in October and held for 88 days by a man who killed her parents, accepts an award from the Wisconsin state Assembly known as a "Hometown Hero" award. (Photo: Molly Beck/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
The motivation for Patterson’s crimes has remained a mystery since his arrest.
Jayme is living with her aunt and uncle. She quietly made her first public appearance in Barron earlier this month and visited Madison last week to be honored by the state Assembly as a “Hometown Hero.” She did not speak at either event.
For Jayme’s family, Friday’s sentencing is an opportunity to move forward, knowing Patterson will be behind bars for the rest of his life.
“We can be happy again,” Smith said. “Smile more. Move forward with life.”
And despite what Jayme endured, Patterson can never take away her courage or spirit, she told the judge. She will go on to do great things, she said – and he will not.
“He thought that he could own me, but he was wrong,” Jayme said. “I was smarter. I watched his routine and I took back my freedom.”
Follow Haley BeMiller on Twitter: @haleybemiller.
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