Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism and the Strange Case of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

The Trial

Nathaniel Bar-Jonah
Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

After considerable legal maneuvering, much of it instigated by Bar-Jonah himself, including motions to throw out evidence, requests for changes of venue, and changes in his legal representation because of lawyers who wanted to be off the case, his trial for the sexual abuse of the three boys in Great Falls finally got underway on February 20, 2002 after being moved to a Butte, Montana courtroom.

During the week-long trial, Bar-Jonah's lawyers accused the police of coercing statements from the children involved. The oldest boy, a teenager at the time of the trial, acknowledged under questioning by one of Bar-Jonah's attorneys, Gregory Jackson, that he had gone to visit Bar-Jonah while he was in the Cascade County Jail. The teenager also testified that he had written Bar-Jonah a letter while Bar-Jonah was in jail, commending him for being a friend.

"Nathan," a portion of the letter read, "you treated me really nice. You have never harmed me in any way. I really miss you, big guy. You were like the dad I never had."

Cascade County Court House
Cascade County Court House

However, an FBI expert testified that the young witnesses were telling the truth regarding the allegations of sexual abuse. Testimony was provided that Bar-Jonah had placed a rope around the neck of one of the boys and had hung him from the pulley in the ceiling of his kitchen, and details regarding erotic asphyxia were provided to a stunned jury and a courtroom full of spectators. The prosecution offered as evidence the photo albums seized from Bar-Jonah's apartment that contained thousands of pictures of children, including several pictures of one of the alleged victims. Other testimony from the victims was provided about sleepovers at Bar-Jonah's apartment and how he had touched them in a sexual manner.

Prosecutor Brant Light characterized Bar-Jonah as an adult who literally had groomed his victims, spending months befriending the children so that he could, one day, sexually abuse them. "This is a man who, at age 42, had only one ambition," Light said. "To pursue young boys and molest them."

On February 25, 2002, the jury found Bar-Jonah guilty on one count each of sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping and felony assault. He was found not guilty on one count of sexual assault, and the jury was deadlocked on another count of sexual assault. The court declared a mistrial on the final, deadlocked count.

The court determined that Bar-Jonah be designated a Level III sex offender who poses an extreme danger to society, and found that his prospects for rehabilitation were virtually non-existent. The court sentenced Bar-Jonah to Montana State Prison for ten years for the aggravated kidnapping conviction, 100 years for the sexual assault conviction, and to 20 years for the felony assault conviction. It was ordered that the sentences be served consecutively, with no possibility of parole.

Bar-Jonah and his attorneys indicated that an appeal was forthcoming.

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