By Adam Strunk and Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Following a day of testimony on the years of abuse, broken bones, and starvation inflicted by Jim and Paige Nachtigal upon two of their adopted children, Judge Joe Dickinson sentenced Jim and Paige Nachtigal to what amounts to 32 months each in prison.
“This was prolonged,” Dickinson said of the child abuse while handing down his sentence. “There was broken bones, open sores, feet bruised and calloused from no shoes, ill-fitting shoes, hours of exercise, beatings with a cane, beatings with a wooden spoon. It was profound abuse. It was severe abuse.”
Shortly before the ruling both Nachtigal’s made statements asking for the court’s mercy.
“I’m very remorseful for the pain I caused these children,” Jim said. Stoic through most of the day Jim broke down into tears during his speech. “My goal was to help my children become responsible citizens, not to hurt them.”
Paige spent time telling the court how difficult the children were to deal with and discussing the skill she taught the children.
She said she didn’t have access to the services she needed nor the help she needed from her church. She also outlined various medical conditions she said the children suffered from, explaining some of the condition they were in.
“I’m so very sorry on the pain and actions I caused. I have no excuses, only remorse.” she said to Judge Dickinson.
In closing arguments, Harvey County Prosecutor David Yoder had asked for justice for the 11-year-old boy and girl the couple adopted and abused.
He asked the court give the maximum sentences possible on the charges the Nachtigals had pleaded guilty to – three felony counts of child abuse for Jim and two counts of aiding felony child abuse for Paige.
“The state has never seen such horrific abuse in my career,” he said, as graphic photos of the children’s scars and x-rays of broken bones played on a projector screen.
“If the court is not deeply offended by what has happened to the children, give them probation,” he said. “But these people deserve maximum prison sentences […] We believe both of them deserve far more than 68 months in prison, but at least it’s something to give these children some level of justice.”
He said that the the public image the couple presented wasn’t the home provided to their children.
“If Charles Dickens was writing this, it would be a tale of two Nachtigals. Good Christian religious people, good community people, always out there doing well for others, while at home they’re systematically abusing two children,” he said. “The community and the state needs to see justice and tell the Nachtigals what they did was criminal and what they did needs to be severely punished.”
Defense attorneys for the Nachtigals asked that they be given probation, saying that neither were a danger to society and that, with mental treatment, they could be rehabilitated far better outside of prison than inside it.
Attorney Kevin Loeffler said that while the court might be offended by what the Nachtigals did, it had to look at sentencing law and guidelines.
“These are not bad people; these are people that have done something that has turned out to be bad for the children,” he said.
Dickinson split the difference in his sentence. He said he couldn’t grant probation.
“To say you haven’t committed crimes before and won’t do them again and walk out this door, that’s not an appropriate sentence,” he said.
He, however, didn’t give the couple the maximum sentence.
In giving the 32-month sentences on each count of child abuse to be served concurrently, he said the sentences could be shortened by 15 percent for good behavior. The sentences are concurrent or will be served at the same time.
Both Nachtigals could serve between 27 and 32 months with the sentence.
Dickinson also recognized the good representation that both sides of the case had, as well as the work done by the North Newton Police Department.
Dickinson’s ruling followed six hours of testimony
The state’s testimony worked to show the effects of the abuse on the adopted children.
Yoder showed photos and X-rays of injuries two of the children had sustained, including healed broken bones, weeping sores on the buttocks, how dry at least one of the children’s skin was, the large sore on one of the children’s arms from being hit with a cane, blisters on their feet from either wearing improperly fitting shoes or wearing no shoes at all (one blister measured around 2 inches by 4 inches) and a knot on one of the children’s elbows where a bone was broken.
Yoder also showed a photo of one of the children when he was in school, where he was happy and smiling. In the second picture an emaciated child with hollow eyes stared blankly forward. The photo was taken after the boy was rescued from the Nachtigal house.
North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan testified he got involved in the case in 2016 when one of the children ran away and the police department received a call from another of the Nachtigal children, telling them she had concerns about the kids being punished for anything, spanked with a spoon on their bottoms, having to stand with their noses against the wall for hours and not being allowed to eat the same food as the rest of the family.
One of the abused children said he wasn’t allowed to eat the same food as Jim and Paige, and that his day started at 5 a.m., Jordan said.
After breakfast, they had exercise for an hour and then homework, as they were homeschooled. If he “was good,” Jordan said, the boy could have a sandwich with meat in it, an apple and water.
If the boy didn’t exercise correctly, Jim would strike him with a cane.
He said Paige was the one starving the boy.
“He was petrified of Paige,” Jordan said.
When the children were removed from the house, one of the children limped.
“She appeared to have been starved,” Jordan said. “She seemed really glad to see us.”
When they found one of the kids, she was sitting in urine.
At this point, Jordan had trouble holding back tears.
“I’m assuming this affected you emotionally,” Yoder said, to which Jordan added, “Yeah.”
Conditions where the children slept included at least one air mattress for the boy and what appeared to be a lock on the outside of the door.
North Newton Assistant Police Chief Jim Bethards said he initially went to the boy’s room and there were only a mattress, blanket and pillows in there, with no toys or anything else, as well as a locking mechanism on the door, so if anyone opened it, it would go off. They later executed a search warrant, and conditions in the boy’s room had changed, as there was an actual bed in there, the walls were being repainted and there was new clothing.
“All that clothing had tags on it like it had just been purchased,” Bethards said. “I felt that was odd because the kids had been removed.”
Pediatrician Dr. Kerry Weeks, director of child abuse and neglect at the KU Medical Center, said during testimony she’s seen thousands of abused and neglected children, and that the three Nachtigal children were referred to her.
She said the kids were sweet, well-behaved and quiet, adding the boy even wrote a thank-you note.
Weeks said the children had very frail bones.
The girl had a broken leg and tibea and a patch of hair missing from her head.
“This case, in my opinion and expertise, was extremely severe,” Weeks said, adding she felt like they would have died if they had not been found.
A clinical psychologist for the defense, Mark Goodman, said he examined James Nachtigal in January 2018, doing a variety of testing, like a personality test and depression inventories and found him to be not a danger to society.
“I believe […] he knows right from wrong, and he would be capable of successfully completing this type of program,” Goodman said about probation.
He added Jim Nachtigal had a problem with passive/aggressive anger.
Yoder then asked Goodman if Jim Nachtigal justified his actions with his military background and religious beliefs, to which Goodman responded, “Yes.”
The oldest of the Nachtigals’ adoptive children provided an unsworn, but emotional, statement during the sentencing hearing.
Today, she’s 17 years old and enrolled in an area school.
She detailed the beatings of the two younger children and how the couple broke wooden spoons during the beatings before transitioning to a cane.
She talked about the nourishment, the food restrictions placed on the children and watching them waste away.
“In school, I’ve been studying the Holocaust, and just looking at pictures of those people, that’s what [the male child] looked like,” she said. “He would blend right in.”
She asked the court to put the Nachtigals in prison.
“They treated two innocent kids, which all they wanted was a family and future and to be loved, they treated them like animals,” she said. “They might never pay for what they did to those kids, but having to go to jail and have that time alone and having to think about what they did, maybe someday they will realize what they did to hurt us. I hope they stay out of my life and I never see them ever again.”
Defense for both Jim and Paige Nachtigal brought forth witnesses, following the state.
Don Esch, who operates Esch Landscaping business locally, said Jim was a good employee after he hired him following his arrest.
Esch knew Jim through church and said he was good at showing up on time and good with people.
“If the Bible said to do it, Jim would be one of the first to volunteer to do it,” he said, calling Nachtigal disciplined.
Esch asked that Jim not be sent to prison.
“We all have made mistakes, and Jim has admitted to making mistakes for the children, and there’s regret on his part,” he said. “I don’t think that him going to jail is going to be a good use of my taxpayer dollars.”
Yoder, in cross examining, asked Esch if he thought systemic abuse was simply a mistake on Jim’s part.
Esch responded that Jim was doing the best he could.
A clinical psychologist, Bruce Nystrom, spoke for the defense, stating that he didn’t think Paige would be a threat in the community if placed on probation, as long as she wasn’t given supervision or control over children and that she would take psychological treatment.
Following the testimony, attorney’s made closing statements, the couple made statements and Dickinson’s ruling was handed down.
At a press conference following the sentencing, Yoder skirted a question regarding his satisfaction with the the sentence, while his body language indicated obvious frustration. He collected himself and eventually said he was glad the couple was going to prison.
He finished by asking anyone who sees child abuse or suspects child abuse to please come forward and report it.
The sentencing concludes a case that began more than two years ago.
On Feb. 5 2016, North Newton Police took a report from the couple that one of their children had run away.
A highway patrol officer found an 11-year-old boy running barefoot in a field winter, looking emaciated.
The boy told law enforcement he ran away from home because he had sinned and hadn’t done his homework and was afraid to return.
The North Newton Police Department checked into the situation and received a report from “a person close to the situation” that food was being withheld from the children in the house as a punishment.
Both of the children were adopted from an orphanage in Peru, and had healthy medical records at the time of their adoptions.
The Nachtigals at the time had a fundraising webpage to finance another trip to Peru to do mission work in order to “Further the Kingdom of God.”
On Feb. 16, 2016 police arrested the Nachtigals and served the house with a search warrant finding a cane and other implements similar to the children’s descriptions. The couple was arrested on three counts each of child abuse.
By Feb. 25 charges against the couple had ballooned with them each facing child abuse charges, two counts of torturing or cruelly beating a minor and seven aggravated battery charges. All the charges were felonies carrying at least 31 months in prison for each count.
The couple were tried together and originally pled not guilty to the charges.
At the time County Prosecutor David Yoder said that he was looking to avoid a lengthy trial.
“We’re obviously pursuing plea negotiations at this time, and seeing if there was something we could pursue to save the children from a trial,” Yoder stated in an August 2016 article.
In August of 2017 the couple changed their pleas to guilty. Jim Nachtigal plead guilty on three counts of felony child abuse. Paige Nachtigal pled guilty on two counts.
However the please, when entered, were what are known as Alford pleas. This means that while the pleas are listed as “guilty,” neither James nor Paige admit guilt with the crimes but acknowledge that with the evidence the prosecution has, it is likely they could convince a judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt.
The couple was convicted of their charges.
Sentencing continued to drag out with various legal postponements until the sentencing was completed on March 8.
The couple will report to the Harvey County Jail by 5 p.m. on March 15.