Nathaniel Bar-Jonah could face the death penalty if convicted on either count in the 1996 disappearance of 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay, who investigators believe Bar-Jonah killed, minced, and cooked up into dishes ranging from spaghetti sauce to stew.
Appearing by video link-up from county jail, the 43-year-old former Massachusetts mental hospital inmate told District Court Judge Thomas McKittrick he understood the charges and was innocent.
McKittrick ordered Bar-Jonah to remain jailed on $500,000 bond, pending a tentative trial date of June 4.
Bar-Jonah made no further statement Thursday. His court-appointed lawyers, Don Vernay of Kalispell and Greg Jackson of Helena, did not talk with reporters following the hearing. They have previously characterized the case against their client as flimsy.
The Ramsay disappearance has transfixed this peaceful community about 70 miles northeast of Helena -- where many are questioning why a Massachusetts judge freed Bar-Jonah on condition that he move all the way to Montana, where his mother lives.
"Exporting problems doesn't solve problems," Mike McGrath, Montana's newly-elected state attorney general, said.
"I hope that the process works in Bar-Jonah's case. If he's guilty, I hope that he'll get the punishment he deserves," McGrath said. "We have to take measures that ensure that these offenders do not get out to re-offend."
They also fear that Bar-Jonah may have had more victims. Investigators are now checking lists of children's names found in Bar-Jonah's possession to see if any have been reported missing.
Bar-Jonah, who grew up in Webster, Mass., had a history of child molestation and had spent 12 years in a Massachusetts Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous for the attempted murder of two teenage boys.
But in 1991, a judge agreed with psychological evaluations from four mental health professionals and ruled that he was no longer a threat - releasing him on the condition that he move to Montana, where his mother lived.
Montana investigators say they received no warning that Bar-Jonah was headed their way -- and that Zachary Ramsay paid the price.
Ramsay disappeared in February 1996 while walking to his elementary school, where he was a fifth-grader. Detectives now believe Bar-Jonah followed the boy in a car, then shot him with a stun gun before taking him back to his home.
There, they allege, he tied Zach to a piece of plywood, stabbed him, and chopped his body into little pieces for use in cooking. In a nightmarish twist, neighbors recall Bar-Jonah bringing them spaghetti, stew meat, chili, and a pot pie, all containing a "strange-tasting" meat.
Bar-Jonah was arrested in December 1999 after a tip from an off-duty police officer that he was acting sspiciously around a school. Police searched Bar-Jonah's apartment and found a stun gun, police badge, pepper spray, and a realistic toy gun in coat pockets - equipment detectives believe he used to fool children into going with him.
Authorities say that in encrypted writings found among his possessions, Bar-Jonah talked about dishes such as "little boy stew," "little boy pot pies" and "lunch is served on the patio with roasted child."
Many of the allegations against Bar-Jonah came from entries in his own journals, reports Julie Klesh of CBS affiliate KRTV in Great Falls.
Few observers showed up for Bar-Jonah's arraignment Thursday, and Zachary Ramsay's mother was not in the court.
But Great Falls resident say anger is simmering over the case -- much of it focused on Massachusetts and the judge who dispatched Bar-Jonah halfway across the country and into their midst.
"I think that early on people wanted to know the reasoning behind the decision to place him here. And the conclusion was that this Massachusetts judge was foisting him off on us," said Jim Strauss, executive editor of the Great Falls Tribune.
"The communication was totally inadequate. People here are incredulous," Strauss said. "If Bar-Jonah is convicted, the outrage will ratchet up considerably."
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