Jake Patterson, the man accused of abducting Jayme Closs, a Wisconsin middle-school student, after murdering her parents, pleaded guilty at an arraignment hearing on Wednesday.
Mr. Patterson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted. It is very unusual for defendants to plead guilty at such an early stage of court proceedings, and his plea can still be withdrawn at any time before he is sentenced.
But Richard Jones, one of Mr. Patterson’s lawyers, told the court that Mr. Patterson “decided this is what he wants to do,” The Associated Press reported.
Investigators said Mr. Patterson, 21, had confessed to them that he went to the Closs family home in Barron, Wis., on Oct. 15 intending to kidnap Jayme, a 13-year-old girl he had seen but never met. He told them he had killed Jayme’s father, James Closs, with a shotgun blast, and forced her mother, Denise Closs, to cover her daughter’s mouth with tape. Then he killed the mother, tied Jayme up, forced her into the trunk of his car and drove about 70 miles to a cabin near Gordon, Wis., where he held her captive, investigators said.
She managed to escape 88 days later, on Jan. 10, and sought help from a passer-by, who took her to a nearby house and got word to the authorities. Within hours, sheriff’s deputies had arrested Mr. Patterson. He was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one of kidnapping and one of armed burglary, and was ordered held on $ 5 million bail.
Mr. Patterson pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the two homicide counts and kidnapping; the burglary charge was dropped. Mr. Jones said Mr. Patterson rejected the other options his lawyers offered him, including trying to persuade the court to set aside his confession, The A.P. said.
Jayme’s disappearance and the killing of her parents baffled the authorities for months. The case attracted national media attention, as scores of detectives fanned out across Wisconsin looking for the girl while her photo was circulated online and on missing-person posters. The case shook the rural county where she lived, and residents of tiny Gordon were shocked to learn that she had been held captive there unnoticed.
Investigators said in a criminal complaint that Mr. Patterson, who was apparently not a suspect until the day he was arrested, told them he had carefully prepared for the abduction, and had killed Jayme’s parents with a shotgun stolen from his father so there would be no witnesses to help track him down. They said he spoke of slowing down on the highway to let police cars race by on their way to the Closs house as he drove away with Jayme in his trunk.
Jayme told detectives that Mr. Patterson kept her imprisoned in the cabin in Gordon, and confined her under a twin bed in his room when he left the cabin or when anyone else was there — sometimes for 12 hours at a stretch without a break to eat, drink or relieve herself.
Former high school classmates and teachers described Mr. Patterson as a quiet, bookish boy who struggled to find his way after graduation. He enlisted in the Marines but was sent home from boot camp after five weeks. Neighbors said he bounced from job to job and spent much of his time alone.
Mr. Patterson said in a Feb. 28 letter, responding to written questions from a Minneapolis television reporter, that he intended to plead guilty at the arraignment hearing on Wednesday because he did not want Jayme’s family to “worry about a trial.” He wrote that he could not explain his motives clearly and that “I can’t believe I did this.” He ended the letter with an apology to Jayme Closs, adding, “I know it doesn’t mean much.”