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Counts to Be Dropped Against Cannibalism Suspect

October 02, 2002|From Associated Press

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Prosecutors said Tuesday that they will drop murder and kidnapping charges against a man accused of butchering a child and feeding him to neighbors because the alleged victim's mother believes the boy is alive.

The stunning announcement came after Zachary Ramsay's mother, Rachel Howard, said she was prepared to testify that she did not believe Nathaniel Bar-Jonah had killed her son in 1996.

"In light of Rachel Howard's testimony, I don't think there's any way we could win this," prosecutor Brant Light said. He asked a judge to throw out the charges ahead of a trial scheduled to begin next week.

Bar-Jonah, 45, already serving a 130-year sentence in Montana for kidnapping and sexual assault in a separate case, was accused of abducting 10-year-old Zachary as he walked to school. The boy's body has never been found, and officials have said evidence suggests that Bar-Jonah killed the boy and disposed of his body in meals served to neighbors.

Searches of Bar-Jonah's house nearly three years ago turned up lists of children's names, including Zachary's, and encrypted letters in which Bar-Jonah wrote about such dishes as "little boy stew" and "lunch is served on the patio with roasted child."

But Howard said Tuesday that she believes her son is alive. In an interview at her attorney's office, she said her belief is based on several things, including a video she says shows her son at age 12. She said police did not believe the boy in the video was her son.

"I did not want Bar-Jonah to be convicted of a crime that I did not believe he did," Howard said.

Defense attorney Don Vernay said he was pleased with the prosecutor's decision, adding that he was confident Bar-Jonah would have been acquitted at trial.

Bar-Jonah was convicted earlier this year of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Great Falls boy and hanging the boy's 8-year-old cousin from a kitchen ceiling. Those assaults occurred in 1998 and 1999. Bar-Jonah has appealed the verdict.

Bar-Jonah spent 11 years in a Massachusetts mental hospital after one attack in which officials said he tried to kill two boys. Before that, he had forced an 8-year-old boy into his car and choked him with his belt. Soon after his release, he assaulted another boy.

Under a 1991 plea deal with Massachusetts prosecutors, Bar-Jonah was allowed to move to Montana with his mother. Montana officials were outraged to learn of the deal after his arrest.

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