Bail set for trio accused of kidnapping man in Madison, killing him near Portage

PORTAGE, Wis. — A Columbia County judge set significant bail amounts Friday for three people facing homicide charges for allegedly kidnapping a man in Madison before killing him near Portage last month.

All three defendants — 28-year-old Jesse Freiberg, 38-year-old Laura Johnson, and 21-year-old Ja’Kenya Patty — face one count of first-degree intentional homicide as a party to a crime. Judge Troy Cross set cash bond at $500,000 for Patty, $750,000 for Johnson and $1 million for Freiberg.

RELATED: ‘We want the car’: 3 facing homicide charges in kidnapping-turned-killing

According to a criminal complaint, on June 14 the trio put the victim in his vehicle and drove to an area along State Highway 16 and Klappstein Road northwest of Portage where Freiberg shot him.

The state started with Freiberg, who admitted to fatally shooting the victim.  

“This is not someone who was known to this defendant, and that sort of random act here is a grave risk to the public,” Columbia County District Attorney Brenda Yaskal said.

“It is pretty much the most serious offense that can be charged in the state of Wisconsin,” she said. 

The victim tried running toward a nearby ditch when Freiberg pulled out a gun and shot him, the complaint alleges. 

Police found the victim’s body the following evening.

Freiberg allegedly split the driving from Madison to Portage with Patty. 

The three kidnapped the man in his own car. Freiberg reportedly asked Patty “Are we going to do this?” to which Patty said, “Yeah, we want the car.” 

“We do have video footage from a gas station in between the city of Madison where the victim was shot that shows Ms. Patty getting out of the vehicle at one point going into the store,” Yaskal said. “I think that this shows that she certainly wasn’t herself in any danger throughout this process (and) that she was voluntarily participating in it.”  

Court documents say she turned on Freiberg, leading to the dispute that got them arrested.  

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes detailed what happened during their arrest in a press conference the day after.   

“They were upset with each other for whatever reason and it would appear when the officers got there the female driver was trying to run over the male who was involved, they were both involved,” Barnes said.

But the district attorney alleged that 38-year-old Laura Johnson set the crime in motion.  

“The state firmly believes that she is the so-called mastermind behind what occurred here,” Yaskal said.  

In follow-up interviews with Patty, the 21-year-old said she and Freiberg found Johnson yelling at the victim about money and holding him “hostage” with a box cutter at her home on Tuesday, June 14. 

Johnson is accused of beating, binding, taking the victim to his car, and encouraging Freiberg to shoot him.

“Ms. Johnson believes that a signature bond would be appropriate,” her public defender began, “Or house arrest,” Johnson interjected, sitting next to him. “Or house arrest your honor,” he replied.

“We believe that she is not a flight risk given her extensive ties to the state of Wisconsin,” the defender said.  

“What would I be running for? If I did it, I wouldn’t be running,” Johnson could be heard saying.  

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for all three defendants for August 1.