LYNDON, Kan. — A man accused of beheading another man with a guitar string three years ago and keeping his head has pleaded not guilty to premeditated first-degree murder.
James Paul Harris, 29, is accused of garroting 49-year-old James Gerety, of Topeka, in March or April of 2011 and keeping Gerety’s head for some sort of religious reason, prosecutors allege. Harris entered his plea Monday, and his trial is set to begin June 23, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/Pdvdij ).
During a preliminary hearing March 14, Harris’ former girlfriend, Bobbie Williams, testified that he told her he shot Gerety in the stomach, tortured him for two days and then cut off his head. Topeka police Detective Brian Hill testified that that Williams told him that Harris kept the head in a canvas bag so he could talk to it as part of a religious ritual.
Harris’ lawyer, James Campbell, stressed that his client has not been convicted of the crime and intends to exercise all of his rights accordingly, including going to trial in June.
“My client, as we sit here today, is innocent until the government shows sufficient proof that he is guilty,” Campbell told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Thomas Henderson, an attorney who handled Gerety’s federal Social Security pension payments, testified at the March hearing that he reported Gerety missing in April 2011 after he failed to pick up his payments. Henderson said Gerety planned to live with Harris.
According to police, Shirley Johnson, who lives with Harris’ father, testified that she found the top of Gerety’s skull on March 24, 2012, while she was out searching for mushrooms. She said she brought it inside and showed it to Harris’ father, who called police.
Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones said Tuesday that testimony from witnesses in March indicated that Harris buried and then reburied the body and the section of skull was found on top of grass near his father’s home. The rest of Gerety’s body hasn’t been recovered.
Harris was in federal custody on unrelated charges when a warrant was issued in October 2013 and he was placed on hold for Kansas authorities. In January, Harris filed a request to have the hold resolved and he was booked into the Osage County jail in March for court proceedings.