Triple torture killings head to court

Ida Strouth vowed she would never reveal the whereabouts of her daughter and 3-month-old granddaughter to the baby’s father. Not even torture worked. She died after her throat and wrists were slit, her head was smashed with a hammer and she was choked with a cord.

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Also slain June 28, in what has been described as a “rage” killing, were Strouth’s 9-year-old son, Jacob, and their 13-year-old neighbor, Jeremiah Sponsel.

Henry Patterson, 22, who had broken up with Sarah Strouth and allegedly had been trying to find their infant daughter, Alexis, was charged with the deaths. His first-degree murder trial begins today.

Jury selection is expected to take about two weeks and testimony another two weeks.

Jurors are likely to see pictures of the crime scene in south Minneapolis’ Windom neighborhood that “show almost unprecedented brutality and disregard for human life, including the lives of children,” court documents say.

Patterson has told police that he was at his mother’s house in north Minneapolis on the night of the killings, after having crawled through a window when no one answered the door. Court documents show that the defense also may try to point to Ida Strouth’s former husband as a suspect.

The key witness for the prosecution is a man who will testify that he watched Patterson do it.

In court records describing his confession, the witness portrays Patterson as out of control, slashing and stabbing the victims in the basement and saying, “These people won’t die.” He accuses Patterson of periodically leaving them to go to other parts of the house, ripping out the phones, finding a vacuum cleaner cord, an electrical cord and a hammer to use on the victims, and ransacking the home.

Documents indicate that the prosecution also will try to introduce evidence that Patterson had a jealous and abusive relationship not only with Sarah Strouth and her 4-year-old son from a previous relationship, but also with his ex-wife.

Started with a break-up

A few days before the killings, Patterson learned that Sarah Strouth wouldn’t be moving back into their apartment, her friends and relatives said. The only way he could contact her was through Ida Strouth, 42, who would serve as an intermediary.

At about 11 p.m. on June 27, Patterson called an acquaintance, Antonio Brayboy, to get a ride, Brayboy said. Brayboy, 21, pleaded guilty in January to being an accessory to murder and agreed to testify against Patterson. He will serve a nine-year sentence.

According to court documents, this is what Brayboy confessed to a woman he knew:

As the two men approached the townhouse at 61st St. and Wentworth Ct., they saw Jeremiah playing near the back door and followed him in.

Patterson confronted Ida Strouth in the living room, pulled out a gun and demanded to know the whereabouts of the baby. Jacob came downstairs. Patterson hit Ida Strouth in the face, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her downstairs. He told the boys to follow.

Ida Strouth asked Patterson why he was doing this after all she had done for him and said, “If you are going to kill us, just kill us. Don’t torture us.”

Brayboy vomited in the corner while Patterson slit the victims’ throats. When Patterson left the room, one of the boys said, “Help me,” and moved his fingers indicating that he wanted Brayboy to run for help. Brayboy replied, “Play dead.”

Afterward, he drove Patterson to an area where Patterson felt safe to get out.

Sarah Strouth discovered the bodies at about 1 p.m. June 28.

Like Ida Strouth, the boys had been hit with a claw hammer. Jacob had criss-crossing slashes on his neck, a cord around his legs and body and another around his neck. Jeremiah’s neck was slit, and he had stab wounds to his chest, wrist and eyes.

Referring to Patterson, Sarah Strouth told a police officer: “I think he is capable of this.”

State of mind

In addition to Brayboy’s testimony, the prosecution will attempt to introduce evidence of what Ida Strouth told friends and coworkers about Patterson’s relationship with her daughter.

“Ida Strouth has been murdered and cannot testify at trial. Her statements are evidence of material facts: the defendant’s state of mind, his motive, his intent, his identity and premeditation,” one motion said.

Patterson had lived with the Strouths for almost two years when he and Sarah got their own apartment in Richfield in May 1996. A few days after moving in, she called her mother to help her and the children move out.

Sarah Strouth made a domestic-abuse report to Richfield police but didn’t get a restraining order, apparently because the courts were closed. She stayed with a friend and at a shelter.

She moved back when Patterson told her that he would get counseling, she said. When he didn’t, she left again.

In court documents, the prosecution contends that Patterson had been not only physically and verbally abusive but wouldn’t allow Sarah Strouth to wear makeup or jewelry, watch movies or listen to music because she might then think of other men.

He also allegedly abused Sarah Strouth’s son. The prosecution said he beat the boy when he wet his pants and once ripped up all of his books because they contained pictures of men.

At one point, Patterson’s mother allegedly told a friend, “Henry gets crazy sometimes, and you don’t know what he will do.”

He has a record

Prosecutors may attempt to introduce Patterson’s 1990 kidnapping conviction and a 1995 guilty plea to a drug charge.

He and two others kidnapped a man in St. Paul and tortured him when he refused to give them $25,000. Police traced calls to a Minneapolis apartment where they found the victim tied with an electrical cord and Patterson asleep on top of his gun.

He served a four-year prison term.

If Patterson testifies, jurors should know about his record to help assess his credibility, the prosecution has argued.

The defense hasn’t filed any motions that indicate its strategy. Though several people have said Ida Strouth’s divorce was amicable, a prosecution memo says the defense is expected to offer evidence of her ex-husband threatening her with a knife in 1990.

Patterson has denied being at the Strouth home on the night of the killings. He told police that he left work that afternoon, went to a liquor store, was robbed of $190 at gunpoint and stayed at his mother’s house without anyone seeing him.