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.
Bar-Jonah, who grew up in Webster, Mass., as David Paul Brown, has a history of child molestation and assaults. He was convicted of attacking three Massachusetts boys between 1975 and 1977 and was treated for almost 12 years in Massachusetts' Bridgewater State Hospital as a sexual offender. In 1991, a judge released Bar-Jonah from the hospital, despite a doctor's evaluation. According to court papers, in February 1990, Dr. Leonard Bard found that Bar-Jonah had made minimal progress since his admission into the facility in 1979. In a review he wrote:
"The most noteworthy presenting clinical data is derived from Mr. Bar-Jonah's rich fantasy life. His fantasies tend to highlight on tentative explanation for the genesis of his behavioral pathology — a profound lack of feelings of effectiveness and control … it is noteworthy that the context of his fantasy life is distinguished by themes of revenge and rage."
Bard determined that Bar-Jonah should be considered a "sexually dangerous person." Nonetheless, the judge released Bar-Jonah into his mother's care in June 1991.
Montana investigators say they received no warning that Bar-Jonah was headed their way from Massachusetts police. And, they say Bar-Jonah's obession with children reasserted itself in Montana, with Zachary Ramsay as his most brutal victim. In addition to the Ramsay case, Bar-Jonah has a separate pending case where a Montana mother has accused him coming to her home dressed as a police officer in 1997 and asking her if he could take her son to the police station. He also faces separate charges that he sexually assaulted two other Great Falls boys, hanging one from his kitchen ceiling and handcuffing another.
Other Slayings Suspected
Cascade County prosecutor Brant Light says he hopes the Ramsay case can shed light on problems that occur when states send sex crime convicts to other states.
"One thing I'm happy about, if one can be happy about a case like this, is that it is putting a spotlight on child molesters being shuffled off to other states," Cascade County prosecutor Brant Light said. "Maybe state legislatures can close some gaps."
Light said that it was beyond his jurisdiction to seek legal sanctions against Massachusetts authorities. But he said Zachary's mother could seek to pursue civil action against them, which he hopes she'll take.
Police are also looking at investigating whether Bar-Jonah may have killed other children. Another list recovered from his Montana home, labeled "Lake Webster" — where Bar-Jonah grew up as a child — includes, among others, the names of the three Massachusetts boys Bar-Jonah was convicted of assaulting. The majority of the people on this second list are boys, whose ages range from 5 to 17 at the time of their alleged encounter with Bar-Jonah. Investigators have been trying to pinpoint the location of the people on this list. ABCNEWS.com's Bryan Robinson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.