The Montana Supreme Court rejected Nathaniel Bar-Jonah's appeals Tuesday, ensuring that the sexual predator will serve his 130-year sentence for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Great Falls boy and strangling the boy's cousin.
"I'm overjoyed about it," County Attorney Brant Light said. "The bottom line is knowing that he will never leave Montana State Prison, that he will never have a chance to hurt someone else."
The court's unanimous decision came two years after Bar-Jonah's conviction and five years after police arrested him dressed in a police-type jacket walking around Lincoln Elementary School.
His arrest led to a string of other charges against the 47-year-old as officers found thick binders filled with boys' photos, handcuffs, a badge and notebook entries with lists of victim names, including 10-year-old Zach Ramsay.
Police charged Bar-Jonah with kidnapping and killing Ramsay, who vanished walking to school in 1996. Just before trial, prosecutors dropped the murder charge after realizing that Ramsay's mom planned to testify that she thought her son was alive.
The crime captured the attention of national, international and statewide media because Bar-Jonah was accused of eating Ramsay and serving him to unknowing neighbors. Bone fragments were found buried in his garage that belonged to a child that was never identified.
In 2001, a Butte jury convicted him of locking a neighbor boy in his bedroom and fondling him and also hanging a younger boy from his kitchen ceiling using a rope and pulley.
District Judge Kenneth Neill considered Bar-Jonah's history of kidnapping, molesting and strangling boys in Massachusetts when handing down the maximum sentence offering no chance for parole. With the other charges against him dropped, the sexual assault case was the lone conviction keeping Bar-Jonah in prison.
Light said Tuesday that he was as anxious about the court's decision as he was the jury's verdict in February 2002.
Sgt. John Cameron, who led the cold-case investigation with now-retired detective Tim Theisen, had been impatiently waiting for the Supreme Court's decision, checking the court's Web site regularly.
Since the murder charges were dropped, the police department ended its investigation into Ramsay's disappearance.
"There was no sense in continuing the investigation because it is still my belief that Nathan Bar-Jonah killed him," Cameron said Tuesday. "I hope now that Nathan will sit down with us and tell us where Zachary's body is just so that his family and the community could know what happened to Zach."
Cameron said he was concerned about the Bar-Jonah appeals considering recent court decisions limiting law enforcement authority.
But police and prosecutors were careful in the trial, admitting a minimal amount of evidence to prevent appeals.
A five-judge panel rejected all of Bar-Jonah's appeals, including:
That police shouldn't have stopped Bar-Jonah by the elementary school. The court said that given Bar-Jonah's background of dressing like an officer and kidnapping and strangling boys in Massachusetts, officers had reason to suspect Bar-Jonah of committing a similar offense in Great Falls.
That officers went beyond the scope of the search warrant when they seized the photo albums, cameras and other evidence used in the long investigation. The court said the items were "reasonably related" to the offense of impersonating an officer.
And because the search warrants were tied to the charges against him at the time, the searches were not a mere pretext that authorities used to look for evidence linking Bar-Jonah to Ramsay's disappearance, the court added. If that was a motive for the searches, it does not matter because they also had a legitimate reason, it said.
That the Butte trial should have been moved a second time to Billings because of pre-trial publicity.
While the reports of possible cannibalism probably stirred strong feelings, the news coverage "did not go beyond the objectivity expected of the press," Justice John Warner said for the court. He also said Bar-Jonah failed to show he was prejudiced by the Butte trial and that moving the trial to Billings would have served any useful purpose.
That jurors were prejudiced by seeing the photo albums packed with photos and magazine clippings of children, pamphlets of rope tying techniques and articles about erotic asphyxiation. The court said the evidence applied because it explained how and why Bar-Jonah befriended young boys, supporting the testimony of the young victims.
Bar-Jonah's lawyer Gregory Jackson, of Helena, said that he would review the court's decisions, looking for opportunities to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, he admitted that there was only a slim chance that the high court would take up the case as few of the issues rise to the level of national interest.
"We'll have to review the opinion carefully," Jackson said. "It's obviously going to be a long shot with the U.S. Supreme Court."
Light said the court's decision could have statewide implications particularly by giving officers reasonable latitude in executing search warrants.
"There was a lot of important issues in this decision," Light said. "Some of those things will be welcomed by other prosecutors in the state when they try similar cases."