– Calling him the “embodiment of evil,” a judge Friday sentenced Jake Patterson to life in prison for abducting 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents in a terrifying series of crimes that traumatized this small western Wisconsin town for nearly three months until her escape.

“I was shocked by the brutalness,” Judge James Babler said, adding that he had never seen more horrifying crimes in his decades as an attorney and judge.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you are one of the most dangerous men to ever walk on this planet. … You are the embodiment of evil, and the public can only be safe if you are incarcerated until you die.”

Babler delivered the sentence near the end of an emotional two-hour hearing in Barron County Circuit Court that included strong words from Jayme, who urged the judge to lock up the 21-year-old Patterson “forever.”

Jayme wasn’t present at the hearing, but a court representative read a statement from her.

“I feel like what he did is what a coward would do,” she wrote. “I was brave and he was not.”

Patterson pleaded guilty in March to kidnapping Jayme after fatally shooting James and Denise Closs in the dark of an October morning at their home on the outskirts of Barron. The case gripped the nation, not only during the time Jayme was missing, but for weeks after her January escape from the cabin near Gordon, Wis., where Patterson had kept her hidden about an hour north of here.

“Last October, Jake Patterson took a lot of things that I love away from me,” Jayme said in a statement read by attorney Chris Gramstrup. “It makes me the most sad that he took away my mom and my dad. I loved my mom and dad very much and they loved me very much.

“They did all they could to make me happy and protect me. He took them away from me forever. I felt safe in my home and I loved my room and all of my belongings. He took all of that, too. I don’t want to even see my home or my stuff because of the memory of that night.”

Jayme added that to this day, going out in public makes her afraid and anxious.

“But there are some things that Jake Patterson can never take from me,” her statement declared. “He can’t take my freedom. He thought that he could own me, but he was wrong.”

Speaking to how she fled her captor when the opportunity came, Jayme explained to the court, “I was smarter. I watched his routine, and I took back my freedom.

“I will always have my freedom and he will not. Jake Patterson can never take away my courage.”

Patterson speaks

When Patterson’s turn to speak came more than 90 minutes into the proceeding, he paused and sighed before stammering and choking back his emotions: “I’ll just say that I would do, like, absolutely anything to take back what I did. I would die. I would do absolutely anything to bring them back. I don’t care about me. I’m just so sorry. That’s all.”

Speaking to the news media moments after sentencing, Jayme’s aunt, Jennifer Smith, said she believes locking up Patterson forever “will give Jayme much needed peace of mind.”

Smith said that Jayme “has made a great deal of progress” in recent months.

In arguing for the maximum sentence of life in prison without eligibility for release, Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright pointedly described the brutality of the killings and kidnapping while Patterson, sitting handcuffed at the defense table wearing orange jail garb, frequently shook his head no and Closs relatives sitting in the courtroom wiped away tears.

Wright recounted how Patterson shot James Closs through a small window at point-blank range as he came to the door with a flashlight, then shot the door lock to get inside.

Patterson then went to the bathroom where Denise and Jayme had barricaded themselves, ripping away the shower curtain as they hid in the tub.

After binding Jayme’s mouth, he shot Denise, also at point-blank range, as he pulled Jayme out.

“The proximity of Jayme to her mother and the sound of that third shotgun blast in the small confined bathroom … would have jolted Jayme to the bone,” Wright said. Patterson then dragged the girl through her father’s blood near the front door, Wright recounted.

Patterson was careful to plan and cover up his crimes, Wright pointed out. Once Jayme was captured and in Patterson’s cabin, he yelled and threatened the teen if she failed to follow his rules and at times hit her with a curtain rod, Wright said.

He then described Jayme’s “courage and will to survive” the afternoon of Jan. 10, when she decided to make a break for it.

“With each step she took to escape,” Wright said, “the terror of not knowing where he was got more and more intense. Was he in the house? Was he standing just outside the door? Would he drive up? Would he find her as she was walking down the driveway? Would he find her when she was walking down the road?”

In pressing his case, Wright said, “The defendant will stop at nothing to get what he wants if he is ever released from prison. The need to protect the public starts with Jayme. If Mr. Patterson is ever released from prison, he will find Jayme and when he does her life will be in jeopardy … If Mr. Patterson is ever released from prison, anyone standing between himself and Jayme will be in peril.”

Acting on his loneliness

Defense attorney Charles Glynn said he understood his client would receive a life sentence, but also described Patterson as someone who was acting on his loneliness. A mental health professional who evaluated him found he wasn’t a sociopath and did not have psychopathic tendencies, Glynn said.

Glynn urged the court to give Patterson credit for quickly admitting to the crimes and sparing the family and community a long trial. He also asked that the court provide his client with therapy and other opportunities while in prison that are not typically afforded to inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of release.

“He has taken responsibility for what he has done,” Glynn said, adding that Patterson refused any plea with insanity as a defense. “He has accepted … that he is going to die in prison.”

Co-defense attorney Richard Jones said Patterson had never before been in trouble with the law beyond a parking ticket and lashed out after “lifelong aimlessness [and] overreacted to his loneliness.”

When the defense attorneys first met Patterson, Jones continued, “We found him to be direct, intelligent, honest with us and remorseful. We found him to be a quiet man that struggled with the weight of his actions and the magnitude of what he had done.”

Relatives share grief

Friday’s hearing started with several brief statements from relatives of the Closses, each describing their loss and urging the judge to sentence Patterson to the maximum penalty possible.

Sue Allard, Jayme’s aunt, spoke of getting the “worst phone call” that she could ever receive when authorities told her that her sister and brother-in-law were dead and her niece abducted.

“I was hoping I was just waking up from a nightmare,” Allard said.

Another aunt, Jennifer Smith, addressed Patterson directly, saying, “It hurts so bad. We now no longer get to make memories with them … [Jayme] doesn’t have a normal 13-year-old life.”

She and other relatives described the terror Denise Closs must have felt in the last moments of her life, understanding what was happening before Patterson shot her.

Smith said she wanted Patterson in prison forever so he can “pay for all the evil you have done.”

“I’m at peace that my brother did not suffer, but I’m also mad as hell that he didn’t have a chance,” Mike Closs said.

Jeff Closs added, “If he could’ve gotten his hands on him, it would have been different.”

Patterson told authorities in January hours after his arrest that he picked Jayme at random, snatching her on Oct. 15 after spotting her boarding a school bus weeks earlier and deciding to take her.

Babler, in explaining the sentence he was about to impose, described oral and written statements Patterson had made, including some from his jail cell, according to a presentence investigation report.

Patterson said in statements that he started having bad thoughts — fantasies about keeping a young girl prisoner, torturing her and controlling her, the judge recounted.

He fought those thoughts at first, but then didn’t after he stopped believing in God.

Patterson said that last summer he “drove around a lot, just trying to get lucky and see a girl alone,” the judge read. He added that Patterson at one point planned on taking multiple girls and killing multiple families and treating them differently and playing mind games on them.

“When I saw Jayme I instantly thought she would be a good target,” the judge said, recounting a Patterson statement.

Patterson, who had kept his head bowed through much of the hearing, emphatically shook his head no at many points of the judge’s recounting, and at the end interrupted: “Why don’t you read the rest of the letter?”

The judge paused and continued, imposing the maximum possible sentence — life in prison without eligibility for release.

No one will forget

The sentence came as a relief to this town of about 3,400 residents 90 miles northeast of the Twin Cities.

Many people paused to watch the hearing as it was broadcast live, absorbing the horrific details while being inspired by Jayme’s words and her courage.

Few, however, dwelled on Patterson. Crystel Atwood could think only about her own 13-year-old granddaughter when she heard Patterson speak. “I just can’t imagine … how somebody could destroy so many lives.”

With Patterson locked away for life, Jayme and her family can begin to heal and life in Barron can return to normal, she said as she ate dinner at the Rolling Oaks Golf Course Restaurant.

But no one will forget, said Timothy Vettrus, who sat at a nearby table. Patterson will have to pay for his mistakes.

“You can live with the results. You can be forgiven,” he said. “But you can’t turn the clock back.”


plouwagie@startribune.com 612-673-7102 mlsmith@startribune.com 612-673-4788 paul.walsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482