BARRON, Wis. — The man accused of kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents has been ordered to stand trial after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing.
Twenty-one-year-old Jake Patterson gave brief answers to the judge Wednesday. He acknowledged he was giving up his right to a hearing at which prosecutors would have had to show they had enough evidence to warrant a trial. The judge then set arraignment for March 27 at 1 p.m.
As Patterson was leaving the courtroom, he nodded at his father and said, "I love you." His father responded, "I love you."
Jake Patterson is accused of killing James and Denise Closs on Oct. 15 and kidnapping Jayme from their Barron home. Jayme escaped on Jan. 10.
A large group from Jayme's family was also in the courtroom.
The appearance marked Patterson's first in-person public appearance since the Barron County District Attorney’s office charged him with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, felony armed burglary and the kidnapping of Jayme Closs.
The hearing was held at the Barron County Justice Center in front of Judge James C. Babler.
According to a criminal complaint, Patterson confessed last month to killing James and Denise Closs and kidnapping their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, who told police she escaped from Patterson’s cabin in Gordon, Wis., after 88 days in captivity.
In the state of Wisconsin, a preliminary hearing determines whether there is probable cause to believe a defendant committed a felony. The defense was given the option to waive the hearing.
If Patterson’s defense team had not waived the hearing, an investigator could have taken the stand tell the court details about Patterson’s confession, which was outlined in a criminal complaint that also included statements from Jayme Closs herself. The defense could also have called a witness.
According to legal experts, the “plausibility” burden of a preliminary hearing is easily met in most felony cases in Wisconsin. The state does not need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; it simply needs to show there’s enough probable cause to move the case forward.
Patterson's attorneys, Assistant State Public Defenders Richard Jones and Charlie Glynn, have declined interview requests this week and will not be speaking to the media before or after the preliminary hearing.
Wisconsin defense attorney Aaron Nelson, who is not involved in the Patterson case, said cases such as this one typically take between 6 months to a year to resolve. Nelson believes Patterson has little incentive to plead guilty, and especially not at his March 27 arraignment.
"There might be no risk with going forward with trial, so at the end of the day, to me,it’s a matter of why would they?" Nelson said.
Nelson explained that Patterson's attorneys will likely challenge whether the defendant's confession was obtained legally, and whether it would stand up in court, before any sort of final plea decisions are made.
And if the case indeed goes to trial, Nelson said it would be a strategic decision by prosecutors whether to call Jayme to the witness stand.
"Obviously they have to prove their case. If they think they can prove their case without her being there in person, they might decide to do that. If they think her testimony is necessary to prove one of the elements, then yes, she would need to be there in person," Nelson said.
Longtime criminal defense attorney Earl Gray, who is not involved in the Patterson case, said the public defenders are clearly in a difficult situation because police say their client already confessed to the crimes.
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