The North Newton couple accused of beating and starving the three children they adopted from a Peruvian orphanage – the younger two of whom have been diagnosed by a physician as victims of child torture – waived their preliminary hearings Monday morning in Harvey County District Court.
A preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial, where prosecutors present evidence and call witnesses to testify in an effort to support the charges alleged in a criminal case, Harvey County Attorney David Yoder said after Jim and Paige Nachtigal appeared briefly in court. If it takes place, a judge afterward decides whether there is probable cause to bind a defendant over for a jury trial on the counts alleged.
But the Nachtigals chose to forgo that step of the criminal process and instead acknowledged that prosecutors have “enough factual basis” for a judge to bind them over for trial on at least a dozen felonies. They include three counts of child abuse alleging cruel and inhuman corporal punishment, seven counts of aggravated battery and two counts of child abuse alleging child torture.
Yoder said the three children – 11, 11, and 15 – are living with foster families and are improving health-wise, but were still too traumatized to testify about the alleged abuse Monday.
Prosecutors and law enforcement have said the 11-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister suffered brutal, religiously fueled beatings with a cane and a board, had broken bones in various stages of healing and were “severely malnourished” when they and their 15-year-old sister were removed from the Nachtigals’ home on Feb. 11. The 11-year-olds weighed 50 and 60 pounds at the time.
The Nachtigals adopted the children three to four years ago from an area of Peru where they worked as missionaries.
“All three of them are doing very, very well,” Yoder said of the children after court. “The two specifically included in this case, where the aggravated battery charges were incurred, they are doing much better.” But, he said, “They are still very, very traumatized.”
“After meeting with them and going over the case and their possible testimony, it became clear to me that they really aren’t at this point in time prepared psychologically to go forward and talk in public about everything that happened to them.”
Phone messages left with the Nachtigals’ defense attorneys were not immediately returned Monday afternoon. Neither spoke with reporters after Monday’s hearing.
The couple’s next court date – an arraignment – is set for Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. At that time, each will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest to at least a dozen criminal charges, Yoder said.
North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan launched an investigation into the children’s welfare on Feb. 8, three days after the boy ran away from home and was discovered barefooted in a field by a state trooper. He told the trooper he feared returning home because of the sinning he had done.
In later interviews with Exploited and Missing Child Unit investigators, the children described being beaten as punishment for not doing homework, “for not behaving in certain ways” or for not praising their mother’s cooking enough, Jordan has said; if they behaved, they were given minuscule amounts of bread, fruit and water or meat-and-cheese sandwiches to eat.
Jordan said at the time that it appeared that Jim Nachtigal, 51, doled out the majority of the abuse but that it was done at the direction of his wife, 49. It started as early as 2014, authorities have said, and went unheeded for months.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families received around a dozen reports questioning their welfare, Jordan told The Eagle in February.
The couple was arrested and jailed following a child-in-need-of-care proceeding at the Harvey County Courthouse on Feb. 16. They were criminally charged the next day.
The Nachtigals are free on bond pending further adjudication of their cases, Yoder said.
The couple smiled and spoke quietly with their defense attorneys prior to Monday’s proceedings, but said only “Yes, sir” during court when asked by Harvey County District Court Judge Joe Dickinson whether they wanted to forgo their preliminary hearings.
Their attorneys escorted them out of the courtroom through a door used by the judge and court staff afterward.
Prior to their arrests, the Nachtigals had been seeking financial support from churches for ministry work in Iquitos, a Peruvian city in the Amazon forest, as well as through a GoFundMe page. Until his arrest, Jim Nachtigal also was the chief executive of Newton elderly care facility Kansas Christian Home, but he has since been fired from that position.
In addition to the three adoptive children, the couple has four adult biological children.