LYNDON, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of beheading a Topeka resident with a guitar string three years ago and keeping his head as part of a Voodoo ritual has pleaded not guilty to premeditated first-degree murder.
James Paul Harris kept the head of 49-year-old James Gerety to talk to it after Gerety was killed sometime in March or April of 2011, police said. Harris, 29, pleaded not guilty Monday and his trial was set for June 23, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
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 during questioning that Harris kept the head in a canvas bag so he could talk to it as part of a Voodoo ritual.
Thomas Henderson, an attorney who handled Gerety’s Social Security 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 is Carbondale, 18 miles south of Topeka.
According to police, Shirley Johnson, who lives with Harris’ father in rural Carbondale in Osage County, 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.