The man accused of killing and cannibalizing a 10-year-old boy pleaded not guilty today to kidnapping and murder charges.
Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, 43, was charged last month with kidnapping and murder in the 1996 disappearance of Zachary Ramsay. The child disappeared on February 6, 1996, apparently on his way to school. He has not been seen since.
Bar-Jonah entered his pleas during a five-minute, closed-circuit television appearance with his attorneys from the Cascade County jail. Dressed in short-sleeved orange jail coveralls, Bar-Jonah sat at a table facing the camera, his hands folded in front of him, quietly answering questions from District Judge Thomas McKittrick.
McKittrick ordered Bar-Jonah to remain jailed on $500,000 bond and set a tentative trial date of June 4.
Bar-Jonah's court-appointed lawyers, Don Vernay of Kalispell and Greg Jackson of Helena, did not talk with reporters following the hearing. They have characterized the case against their client as flimsy.
If convicted of either charge, Bar-Jonah could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek death.
Stun Guns, Badges and 'Little Boy Stew'
Some witnesses have told police they saw Bar-Jonah near Ramsay or at least standing along the normal route the child walked to school.
Ramsay never showed up at school that morning. Police were stumped by his case until Bar-Jonah was arrested in Dec. 1999 for allegedly impersonating a police officer while walking by an elementary school. (In his previous assaults in Massachusetts, Bar-Jonah had dressed as a police officer to lure boys into his car.) On the day of his arrest, police searched his home and found 28 boxes of potential evidence that they say appear to link him to Ramsay's disappearance.
According to court documents, investigators found several pictures of young boys, two yearbooks from a local elementary school, stun guns, knives, batons, blue police-style coat, police badges and patches and a toy chrome pistol in Bar-Jonah's home. They found a list of names, including Ramsay, young relatives and children of friends. (All except Ramsay are alive and accounted for.)
Perhaps detectives' most startling discovery were writings that they say may allude to Ramsay's suspected gruesome fate. In two separate writings, Bar-Jonah makes references to "Little Boy Stew," "Little Kid Desert," "Little Boy Pot Pies," anal sex and masturbation.
Police say they believe these writings refer to actual events where Bar-Jonah molested Ramsay, killed him, and then butchered him, serving his remains to unsuspecting visitors. Various acquaintances of Bar-Jonah, Montana prosecutors claim, have told investigators that the suspect served them meals where the meat tasted peculiar.
Police say various witnesses claim they saw Bar-Jonah with the clothes Ramsay wore the day he disappeared and that he admitted to the slaying. But Bar-Jonah has denied any involvement in Ramsay's disappearance in letters written to the Great Falls Tribune.
A Doctor's Warning, a Judge’s Fateful Decision
Many local residents and Montana prosecutors place blame for Zachary Ramsay's death on a Massachusetts judge, who released Bar-Jonah from a mental hospital against a doctor's recommendations and ordered him to move to his mother's home in Montana as a condition of his release.