BARRON, Wis. – More than seven months after he shot his way into a home on the outskirts of this western Wisconsin town, killing two adults and abducting their teenage daughter, Jake Patterson is headed back to court to face his fate.
Patterson, 21, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison Friday after pleading guilty in March to fatally shooting Denise and James Closs in the dark of an October morning and kidnapping their 13-year-old daughter Jayme and holding her hostage for 88 days before she escaped.
For many here, it’s a sentence that could also bring a sense of closure to a case that has haunted this community of 3,400 residents while gripping the nation.
“We all look forward to the finality of the upcoming sentencing mainly because justice will be served,” Barron Area School District Superintendent Diane Tremblay said Thursday in a written statement.
Patterson told authorities in the hours after his arrest in January that he picked Jayme at random, snatching her the morning of Oct. 15 after spotting her boarding a school bus weeks earlier and deciding to take her.
According to a criminal complaint charging him with the crimes, Patterson drove to the Closs home, shot James Closs at the front door, then shot Denise Closs in the bathroom where she was barricaded with Jayme.
Patterson said he then stuffed Jayme into the trunk of his car and drove north to his family’s cabin near Gordon, Wis., where he kept the girl for nearly three months, hiding her under a bed when people visited.
Jayme escaped the afternoon of Jan. 10 after Patterson left the house for several hours. With the help of a woman walking a dog nearby, she got to the home of neighbors, who called police.
At Friday’s 1:30 p.m. hearing in Barron County Circuit Court, Closs and her family will have the opportunity to speak about how the crimes have affected their lives, though it is unclear whether they will do so.
Patterson, too, will be allowed to make a statement.
There likely will be little question about Patterson’s sentence. Each homicide count carries a sentence of life in prison, and the kidnapping charge carries a sentence of 40 years. Although judges in Wisconsin have discretion to determine what “life in prison” actually means, it likely won’t be an issue in the case, experts said.
The seriousness of the offenses and the need to protect the public should make it clear-cut, said Daniel Blinka, a Marquette University law professor and former prosecutor.
“As a judge, you’d be hard pressed to rationalize why [Patterson] would even have an opportunity — even a glimmer — of release,” Blinka said.
“The real significance of this on Friday is what the judge says to the public about it ... in terms of the significance of the public act of putting away the defendant for the rest of his life and why is it the only fair and just penalty in this case.”
The community will also want to see that the case was handled professionally and justice is carried out, Blinka said.
Tremblay, meanwhile, said in her written statement that she is proud of how residents of Barron have cared for one another in the aftermath of the horrific crimes.
“We will do whatever it takes to help Jayme and her family heal and get back to normalcy,” she said.