SHERIDAN, Ark. (KTHV) - The man accused of murdering a Sheridan teen in January 2017 will avoid both a trial and the death penalty. Rusty Draper pled guilty to murder and will get life in prison.
The people in that community are hoping, with his conviction, the attention will turn back to the victim.
Austin Moody was only 17 years old when Rusty Draper gunned him down in his driveway. He should be graduating from high school and going to college next week. Instead, his friends and family are forced to carry on his memory; of how Austin lived and not how he died.
"He was a very bright kid. He was always smiling. He wouldn't meet a stranger. He was just very outgoing,” said Bleys Smith of his friend.
Austin Moody was a Junior at Sheridan High School when his life was cut short at the hands of Rusty Draper. Before his death, Moody was dating a girl that had previously dated Draper's son, another student.
"He was loved by everyone. Definitely loved by the people of this church, the congregation here. He was loved,” said Cain Nattin, Moody's Youth Pastor. "I just have to remind myself that Christ loves each and every one of us and I need to pour that love each and every student of this town."
According to court records, Draper stalked Moody and slashed his tires before shooting and killing the 17-year-old in January 2017. Nearly a year-and-a-half later, Draper has pleaded guilty to murder to avoid the death penalty, and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
"There is no winner in this. The choices Mr. Draper made not only destroyed the Moodys, but it also destroyed his family. I mean, there's no winner here,” said Grant County Sheriff, Ray Vance. Adding, his deputies knew something was wrong from day one. He says he hopes this plea brings closure to everyone involved.
“We're never going to forget it, but hopefully we can get it past it," he said.
THV11's Winnie Wright asked Moody's friend, Smith, if he is comfortable with the sentence.
"I think I am satisfied with what he got. He did commit a major crime. He does deserve prison or death. But then again, Jesus died for him as much as Jesus died for me. I think everyone deserves a second chance of grace and mercy,” he told me.
Austin Moody's memory will live on with the Austin Moody Memorial Scholarship through First Landmark church. Each year, an outstanding member of the Sheridan High Football team will be awarded the college scholarship, encouraged to live as Austin did, through kindness and Christ.