Former U.S. Attorney explains next steps in Patterson case

March 27, 2019 10:14 PM

Inside a Barron, Wisconsin courtroom Wednesday, Jake Patterson pleaded guilty to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents Denise and James Closs.

Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger called it a “textbook guilty plea."


RELATED: Jake Patterson pleads guilty to Jayme Closs kidnapping, killing of her parents

He said it was clear both the defense and prosecution were trying to spare Jayme further pain.

“You can't just walk in off the street and plead guilty to a crime," Heffelfinger said. "You have to be able to satisfy the judge that there is a good legal basis, factual basis, for your plea.

"In this case, that would’ve required Patterson, in the usual way, to talk about what he had done.”

Instead, the judge asked Patterson to confirm the criminal complaint is an accurate account of what happened.

According to Heffelfinger, it was also unusual that defense attorneys gave a long statement about everything they did to make sure Patterson knew the implications of pleading guilty.

“I think that was important because this was an early plea, and it was important that the public know Patterson got competent legal counsel,” he said.

RELATED: Jake Patterson's father has no comment, but defense attorneys react after guilty plea

Heffelfinger wasn’t surprised by the guilty plea.

“Not in light of how strong the case is, and how egregious it is, and how everybody wanted to avoid a jury trial," he said. "They didn't want to put Jayme on the stand."

He said guilty pleas are rare when the possible jail time is so high, because the prosecution doesn’t want to plea away those sentences.

In this case, however, that wasn’t a risk.

The maximum sentence for the kidnapping charge Patterson faces is 40 years in prison. Each intentional homicide charge carries a maximum of life in prison, with possible release after 20 years.

“The judge can also order no early release,” Heffelfinger said. “I think it was a very important statement from the judge to get Patterson to say ‘Yes, I understand you can give me consecutive life terms for the two murder counts and a consecutive 40 years for the kidnapping.'

“It’s a very, very bad case. And I would speculate the judge will give at least two consecutive sentences."

Patterson can change his plea before his May sentencing, but Heffelfinger doubts that will happen.

The sentencing will be long, the judge scheduled it for the whole afternoon on May 24. According to Heffelfinger, Jayme’s family will likely speak on her behalf.

Patterson will also have the opportunity to make a statement.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections will determine where Patterson will serve his sentence. They can transfer him out of state if they feel they cannot safely hold him, Heffelfinger said.

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Callan Gray

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