The last image Henry Patterson saw of his three victims wasn’t the tortured, bloody bodies he left on a basement floor last year.
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On Wednesday, he saw videos of Ida Strouth, her son and a neighbor boy in happy moments with their friends and relatives. On the “Memories of Ida and Jacob” tape played in Hennepin County District Court, the last words of 9-year-old Jacob Strouth were, “I’m looking forward to summer and going swimming.”
Patterson, 22, of Richfield, was then sentenced by Judge Thorwald Anderson to three consecutive life terms in prison. He won’t be eligible for parole for 90 years.
Patterson was convicted of killing Ida Strouth, 42, who wouldn’t tell him where her daughter, Sarah, had moved with their baby girl. (Sarah Strouth, 21, had recently broken up with Patterson because of escalating abuse in their relationship.) He then killed Jacob Strouth and his friend, Jeremiah Sponsel, 13, because they were witnesses.
The bodies were found June 28 in Ida Strouth’s townhouse in south Minneapolis’ Windom neighborhood. They had been tortured while they were still alive; their throats had been slashed, they had been beaten on the head with a hammer and they were strangled. The boys were hog-tied.
Four members of the Strouth family and three members of the Sponsel family described for the judge the impact the killings had on their lives.
Sarah Strouth said the memory of walking into the townhouse and finding her mother and brother murdered will never be erased. She was the one who pointed police to Patterson.
“This man is so violent, if he got out he would come looking for me and kill me,” she told the judge at Wednesday’s sentencing.
Reginald Gable, who is engaged to one of Ida Strouth’s sisters, said the family can’t do simple things without thinking of the horror the victims went through:
“We look down a flight of stairs and see Ida lying in a pool of blood. We can’t look at a vacuum cleaner without seeing them tied up with a vacuum cleaner cord. He should sit, rot and ponder his atrocities for the rest of his worthless life.”
Jesse Sponsel, a year older than his brother, Jeremiah, said he thought about killing Patterson, but that he believed Patterson would suffer more in prison.
Jeremiah’s mother, Linda Sponsel, described seeing the cuts, bruises and stab wounds on her son’s body at the funeral home.
“He hated turtlenecks,” she said, “but he had to be dressed in one.”
And when she saw the pictures from the crime scene and the autopsy, she said, she realized why Jeremiah died with such a look of terror on his face: Hog-tied with a slip knot around his neck, he knew that when his legs got tired and dropped, he would strangle himself.
Linda Sponsel recalled how Jacob asked June 27 if he could stay over because he and his mother were moving away that weekend. She said no; the last time they had kept everyone else awake until 2 a.m.
So Jacob asked if Jeremiah could stay with him instead.
“I saw the night was important to the boys,” she said, and consented.
When she went to make sure it was OK with Ida Strouth, she saw a strange car nearby and was a little worried because of a recent break-in in the neighborhood, but then she recognized Patterson in the passenger seat. She didn’t know that Patterson and Sarah Strouth had split up.
“I am stuck with an emptiness inside me that can never be filled,” she said. “Please don’t let Henry Patterson torture and murder other kids or an Ida trying to protect her daughter.”
When it was Patterson’s turn to speak, he continued to deny responsibility and said the man who testified against him was the killer.
“Four people – Jacob, Jeremiah, Ida and God – know I didn’t do it,” Patterson said.
Antonio Brayboy, 21, admitted that he was with Patterson the night of the killings. In exchange for his testimony, he pleaded guilty to being an accessory to first-degree murder and received a nine-year prison term last week.
Patterson’s attorney, Dan Homstad, requested that his client be given concurrent life terms.
But the judge imposed consecutive sentences, he said, because it wasn’t just one act in which three people were killed. Patterson had separate motives for killing Ida Strouth and the two boys and made separate decisions to kill each.