A Kansas man accused of beheading another man with a guitar string in 2011 and keeping his head for Voodoo rituals pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder on Monday.
James Paul Harris, 29, allegedly decapitated 49-year-old James Gerety, of Topeka, sometime in March or April of 2011. Prosecutors say he kept the head and would talk to it.
His former girlfriend, Bobbie Williams, testified during a preliminary hearing March 14 that Harris told her he shot Gerety in the stomach, tortured him for two days, and then cut off his head.
He kept the head in a canvas bag and would talk to it as part of a religious ritual, according to the testimony of Topeka police Detective Brian Hill.
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While the rest of Gerety’s body was not recovered, the top of his skull was found in the grass at Harris' father’s home in rural Carbondale in Osage County.
Shirley Johnson, who lives with Harris' father, testified that she found the top of Gerety's skull while she was foraging for mushrooms on March 24, 2012. She brought it inside and showed Harris’ father, who called authorities.
When an arrest warrant was issued for Harris, he was already in federal custody on unrelated charges.
"My client, as we sit here today, is innocent until the government shows sufficient proof that he is guilty," Harris' lawyer, James Campbell, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
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Harris’ trial is set to begin June 23.