DALLAS COUNTY, Mo. (TCD) — A judge sentenced a 60-year-old man to life in prison last week for his purported connection to the disappearance, death, and dismemberment of a missing 33-year-old woman last seen in July 2021.
Court records show James Phelps entered an Alford plea Friday, April 28, for first-degree murder in connection with the death of Cassidy Rainwater. As a result of the plea, he was sentenced to life without parole. The Alford plea means Phelps acknowledges he would be found guilty during a trial, but he maintains his innocence.
Court records also indicated prosecutors were seeking the death penalty if Phelps went to trial and was convicted.
Phelps’ alleged co-conspirator, Timothy Norton, is still awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and abandonment of a corpse.
Rainwater was last seen July 25, 2021, and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office said Phelps was likely the last person who saw her alive. Phelps initially told investigators Rainwater stayed with him for several weeks “until she got back on her feet,” but then she “met a vehicle at the end of the driveway and left in the middle of the night.”
On Sept. 16, 2021, the FBI received a photo tip showing Rainwater in a cage and bound to a gantry crane, which the Sheriff’s Office said is used primarily for deer processing. Detectives obtained a warrant to search Phelps’ home and found items in the backyard “that coincided with the photos.”
Detectives looked over the property for several days and eventually discovered a freezer with apparent human flesh inside of it with “7-24” written on it, which coincided with Rainwater’s last day alive. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office said detectives located Rainwater’s remains on a nearby property.
On Sept. 20, Norton told FBI agents he held Rainwater down while Phelps put a bag over her head and strangled her. Then, the two men allegedly took her body outside, tied her to the crane, and dismembered her.
In October, Phelps’s house burned down, and officials said it was arson, KOLR-TV reports.
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