A North Newton couple who worked abroad as missionaries on Monday pleaded not guilty to abusing the three children they adopted from a Peruvian orphanage.
Jim and Paige Nachtigal, who are free on bond, in court each denied a dozen criminal charges filed against them earlier this year after local police discovered two 11-year-olds and a 15-year-old were being beaten and starved, allegedly at the couple’s hands.
The pair appeared before Harvey County District Judge Joe Dickinson for their arraignments Monday morning at the courthouse in downtown Newton.
After accepting their pleas, Dickinson set aside a week in January to hold the couple’s jury trials, although it’s unclear at this point whether they will be tried together.
That decision will be made by Oct. 26, when the Nachtigals are next due in court. Dickinson designated that date for attorneys to argue motions and handle other matters that need addressing before the couple’s trial or trials.
Jim Nachtigal’s defense attorney, Kevin Loeffler, told the judge in court he anticipated requesting separate trials.
Brent Boyer, who is representing Paige Nachtigal, told Dickinson: “A decision really hasn’t been made in that regard.”
Jim Nachtigal is charged with three counts of child abuse for allegedly inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment on the children in 2016; two counts of child abuse for allegedly torturing or cruelly beating each of the 11-year-olds between 2014 and 2016; and seven counts of aggravated battery.
According to court documents, the aggravated battery counts allege he:
▪ Broke his 11-year-old adoptive son’s arm on or about Dec. 9, 2015
▪ Broke the boy’s rib between September and December 2015
▪ Broke his 11-year-old adoptive daughter’s arm between September and December 2015
▪ Broke the girl’s finger between December and January
▪ Broke another of the girl’s fingers in January or February
▪ Broke a rib of hers around the same time
▪ And broke the girl’s leg in February.
Paige Nachtigal is charged with five counts child abuse that mirror her husband’s charges.
She also is facing with seven counts of aiding and abetting her husband in committing the alleged aggravated batteries against the 11-year-olds.
Authorities think Jim Nachtigal, 51, doled out the abuse at the direction of his wife, 49.
The couple adopted all of the children three and four years ago from the same area of Peru where they worked as missionaries.
North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan launched an investigation into the children’s welfare in February, three days after the 11-year-old carried out his second runaway attempt and was found walking barefoot in a field by a state trooper.
The boy at the time told the trooper he feared returning home because of the sinning he had done.
Authorities have said the children, in interviews with law enforcement, described being beaten for not doing homework, misbehaving and for not praising Paige Nachtigal’s cooking and were denied or given only minuscule amounts of food to eat.
The 11-year-olds weighed 50 and 60 pounds when they and their 15-year-old sister were removed from the Nachtigals’ home. Authorities also have said the older girl managed to avoid the bulk of the abuse.
Jordan has said the Kansas Department for Children and Families received around a dozen reports questioning the children’s welfare in the months leading up to the Nachtigals’ arrests, but they went unheeded. All are now living with foster families.
Harvey County Attorney David Yoder earlier this summer told The Eagle that the children were improving health-wise but remain traumatized.
The Nachtigals are free on bond awaiting further adjudication of their cases. They said nothing aloud in court Monday other than “Yes, sir” and “Yes, your honor” to the judge when asked whether they understood the day’s proceedings and the penalties involved if they are convicted of the counts.
The couple’s defense attorneys quickly escorted them out of the courtroom through the judge’s library when the hearing ended. It lasted about five minutes.