Jake Patterson appears for a hearing at the Barron County Justice Center in Barron, Wisconsin. Picture: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP

Barron, Wisconsin - A Wisconsin man pleaded guilty Wednesday to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents, in a move that spares the girl held captive in a remote cabin for three months from the possible trauma of having to testify at his trial.

Jake Patterson, 21, sniffled and his voice caught as he pleaded guilty to two counts of intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped a count of armed burglary. Patterson faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced May 24; Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.

Patterson admitted kidnapping Jayme after killing her parents, James and Denise Closs, on October 15 at the family's home near Barron, about 90 miles (145 kilometres) northeast of Minneapolis. 

The plea, coupled with an earlier decision by prosecutors not to bring charges in the county where Jayme was held, increases the chances that the details of her time in captivity will remain private.

Patrick Patterson, right, and his daughter, Katie, arrive for the arraignment hearing of his son, Jake Patterson. Picture: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

Patterson stoically answered "yes" and "yeah" to repeated questions from Barron County Judge James Gabler about whether he understood what he was doing. Later, as he responded "guilty," to each count, he could be heard sniffling. He paused for several seconds after the judge asked him about the kidnapping charge before stuttering, "guilty."

Defence attorney Richard Jones told Gabler that Patterson "wanted to enter a plea from the day we met him" and brushed off strategies presented to him, including trying to suppress his statements to investigators.

"He rejected all that and has decided this is what he wants to do," Jones said.

Members of the Closs family and Patterson's father and sister all left the courthouse without commenting.

Lynn Closs, aunt of Jayme Closs, leaves the courtroom after Jake Patterson pleaded guilty at the Barron County Justice Center. Picture: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

Jayme told police that the night of the abduction, the family dog's barking woke her, and she went to wake up her parents as a car came up the driveway. While her father went to the front door, Jayme and her mother hid in the bathroom, clutching each other in the bathtub, with the shower curtain pulled shut.

Patterson shot Jayme's father as he entered the house, then found Jayme and her mother. He told detectives he wrapped tape around Jayme's mouth and head, taped her hands behind her back and taped her ankles together, then shot her mother in the head. He told police he dragged Jayme outside, threw her in the trunk of his car, and took her to his cabin, the complaint said.

During Jayme's time in captivity, Patterson forced her to hide under a bed when he had friends over and penned her in with tote boxes and weights, warning that if she moved, "bad things could happen to her." He also turned up the radio so visitors couldn't hear her, according to the complaint.

Authorities searched for Jayme for months and collected more than 3,500 tips. On January 10, Jayme escaped from the cabin while Patterson was away. She then flagged down a woman who was out walking a dog and pleaded for help. Patterson was arrested minutes later.

Patterson grew up in the cabin where he held Jayme. He wrote in his high school yearbook of plans to join the Marines after graduation, but he was kicked out barely a month after joining up. He worked just a single day at a turkey plant in 2016 before quitting; he told investigators he spotted Jayme while heading to work at a cheese factory where he already planned to quit after two days.

Sue Allard, centre, Jayme Closs' aunt, leaves the courtroom after Jake Patterson pleaded guilty to kidnapping the 13-year-old and killing her parents. Picture: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

The day Jayme escaped, Patterson had applied online for a job at a liquor store with a resume that misrepresented his experience.

Laura Tancre, of nearby Star Prairie, said she was relieved by Patterson's plea and "happy for the little girl." Tancre, 57, worked at the same plant as Jayme's parents and called them "very nice people."

"I think he should get life for killing both parents," she said. "I'd hate for him to get out and be able to do it again."

AP