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Will DA add charges in Jayme Closs case?

Jayme Closs. FBI photo1 / 3
Jake Patterson2 / 3
The house that Jake Patterson held Jayme Closs in sits empty on Monday afternoon, Jan. 14, in Gordon, Wis. Jed Carlson / Forum News Service 3 / 3

BARRON, Wis. - The man accused of abducting 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents is due back in court in Barron County, Wis., on Feb. 6.

Jake Patterson, 21, of Gordon faces two counts of first-degree homicide, armed burglary and kidnapping and is being held in the Polk County (Wis.) jail on $5 million cash bail.

The question of whether additional charges will be filed in Douglas County, where Closs was believed to have been held captive for 88 days, remains open. District Attorney Mark Fruehauf this week said the case is still under review and declined to give any specifics about the investigation.

So, what considerations might factor into Fruehauf's decision?

Cecelia Klingele, assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that a prosecutor's chief concern is making sure a defendant is held responsible for his or her actions.

Klingele said it's not uncommon for a defendant to be charged in multiple jurisdictions when crimes have occurred in more than one location. Sometimes that comes from a worry that charges in one jurisdiction won't be enough to punish a defendant adequately.

The charges filed in Barron County this month are enough to put Patterson in prison for the rest of his life.

"These are very, very serious charges," Klingele said. "The evidence in this case appears to be strong, and when you have a strong case for serious crimes, particularly crimes where there's a mandatory life sentence on the line, typically (these) charges are going to be enough to hold a defendant accountable."

In other cases, Klingele said, additional charges might be filed as a way for local communities to signal their disapproval of the alleged crimes.

"They want to say, 'Our county isn't OK with what happened,' and so charges will often be brought sort of to send that community message," she said.

Individual counties and district attorney's offices can be limited in resources, and often jurisdictions will coordinate on filing charges for the sake of efficiency, Klingele said.

File now or file later?

If Fruehauf determines that Patterson committed a crime in Douglas County, charges must be filed within a specified time frame. The statute of limitations for most felonies is six years, but some more serious felonies have much longer windows.

If the district attorney is inclined to file additional charges, how should he proceed? Is it better to do so now, when Jayme Closs is still a child and might be shielded from publicity, even if potentially sensitive details are made public? Or is it better to wait, perhaps until Jayme is an adult and more equipped to manage such scrutiny, even if it means she has to revisit a traumatic experience?

"These are difficult decisions to make; there are no clear, right answers," Klingele said.

District attorneys also may consult with victims and their families when making charging decisions. In traumatic cases such as this one, that communication may be done through a victim/witness specialist who can help provide needed support services beyond the justice system, she said.

From a legal perspective, however, prosecuting crimes closer to when they occurred tends to be better for the judicial process, Klingele said.

"Witnesses' recollections are clearer, and evidence is fresher and easier to obtain." she said. "For that reason, it tends to be the default of the system to bring charges more quickly rather than waiting for a long time unless there's a good reason to do so."

Search warrants sealed

Search warrant applications and findings related to the case have been sealed for six months by judge's order, so without a new criminal complaint from Douglas County, details of what allegedly occurred at the Patterson house may be scarce for some time to come.

The warrants were issued for Patterson's residence, vehicle and person Jan. 11 in Douglas County. A second search warrant for "The residence of Jake Patterson" was issued the following day, according to court records. Whether the warrant was for a second residence or the same one was unclear.

Fruehauf said this week that he planned to provide an update on whether he'll file additional charges before Patterson's Feb. 6 court date.

Maria Lockwood contributed to this report.

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