DALLAS COUNTY, Mo. — James D. Phelps entered an Alford plea for a charge of first-degree murder in a Dallas County court today, April 28.

An Alford plea is made when a defendant pleads guilty but does not admit to the crime, only that there is enough evidence that they would be found guilty in a jury trial.

Phelps was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prior to the plea, prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty.

Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice says he is glad this part of the case is over.

“This case was the last case I ever thought we’d work in Dallas County,” Rice said, “I mean, we have homicides every now and then, but nothing that compares to that. This is something that should happen in a big city, not some small town.”

Phelps is one of two suspects in the Cassidy Rainwater murder case. In September of 2021, Phelps was arrested after law enforcement received images that showed Rainwater in a cage and bound to a gantry crane used for processing animals.

Residents in Dallas County say getting life in prison was the very least of what Phelps deserved.

“It was horrible what happened. It should have never happened,” said Janie Brown, co-owner of Rustic Reflection on the Buffalo Square.

Community members tell OzarksFirst they hope now Rainwater’s family can find some closure.

“I’m sure they’re relieved that there’s somebody behind bars that needs to be there,” resident Suzy Luke said, “Just let the Lord take care of the rest of it.”

After a search of the property, law enforcement found Rainwater’s remains. For full details and a timeline of what happened in the case, read OzarksFirst’s previous coverage.

The other suspect in the case, Timothy Norton, is still proceeding through the courts. He has a criminal setting scheduled for May 2.