Dallas County, Missouri: On Friday, April 28, 2023, 60-year-old James D. Phelps entered an Alford Plea and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Judge Jill Porter.
The Alford Plea acknowledges that there was enough evidence against Phelps that he would have likely been convicted had his case gone to trial, but allows him to continue to assert his innocence. Had the case gone to trial, prosecution intended to seek the death penalty.
Phelps had been charged with first degree murder for the death and dismemberment of 33, year-old Cassidy Rainwater of Lebanon, Missouri. Cassidy had last been seen around July 25, 2021.
In October 2021, Phelps and his co-defendant, Timothy Norton, were both arrested on initial charges of kidnapping, facilitating a felony, inflicting injury and terrorizing.
The following month the charges were upgraded to first-degree murder and abandonment of a corpse.
Initially, Cassidy's case was classified as a missing persons case. In soliciting the public for information about her whereabouts, investigators were sent some disturbing images. One of those images showed a "partially nude" Cassidy confined within a cage, and a second reportedly showed her suspended from a gantry crane primarily used to process deer.
Following the receipt of the images, investigators served a search warrant at Phelps' residence.
A search of the home revealed what would ultimately be confirmed to be human tissue belonging to Cassidy dated "7-24" within a freezer. The Dallas County Sheriff's Office eventually discovered Cassidy's remains on a nearby property.
In early October 2021, Phelps' residence burnt to the ground. Citing a report from the Missouri State Fire Marshals, obtained by OzarksFirst, the fire was classified as arson. Within the report it is reported that the first officers from the Springfield bomb squad to arrive on the scene noted two incendiary devices made with mortar tubes, balloons and coiled fuses with tripwires attached.
Norton's case is still pending. He has a court date scheduled for June 27, 2023.