Arkansas man accused of stalking, killing high school student pleads guilty to murder charge

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Rusty Draper, left, is shown in a file photo. At right, part of the plea agreement he signed before being sentenced to life in prison.

A Sheridan man accused of stalking and killing a 17-year-old teenager who had been in a relationship with his son's ex-girlfriend has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Rusty Draper admitted Wednesday to fatally shooting Sheridan High School student Austin Moody on Jan. 19, 2017 -- part of a plea deal that will send him to prison for the rest of his life, according to a release from the office of Teresa Howell, prosecuting attorney for the 7th Judicial District. The plea was entered in Grant County circuit court.

Draper admitted drinking at a cemetery and then driving to Moody's nearby home, according to a court document signed by Draper.

He also initialed an admission on the plea agreement stipulating that he then "stopped at the residence and, when he saw Austin Moody, he purposefully shot him" with a Smith and Wesson revolver before leaving a .410-gauge shotgun at the scene.

Howell said in a statement that the investigation into the killing showed "overwhelming evidence of Rusty Draper's guilt."

The statement noted that Moody's parents addressed Draper in court, telling him "they prayed Draper would seek forgiveness for the murder of their only child and that their son would someday become an inspiration to Draper rather than an object of hate."

Moody was found dead outside his home on Arkansas 35 north of Sheridan.

An affidavit from Grant County Deputy Sheriff Robert Bird stated that the teen reported "being stalked" by Draper in the preceding weeks. The document identified Draper as the father of an ex-boyfriend of Moody's girlfriend.

At times, Draper showed up, seeking Moody's assistance with a broken-down car and with other vehicle-related issues, authorities wrote.

An autopsy revealed that Moody died from a gunshot wound in the head, though the wound was found to be consistent with a revolver and not the shotgun found near the body.

The shotgun at the scene was later found to have two DNA profiles on it, including one belonging to Draper.

At one point authorities questioned Draper, who said he had tried to go to work at Union Pacific in Pulaski County the morning of the killing, but the time clock wouldn't let him punch in because it was already recorded as him taking a vacation day, the affidavit said. He also said he had seen a man he knew at a nearby gas station and honked and waved at the man that morning.

Investigators say the time clock showed no evidence of an attempted punch and that surveillance collected from the business that day did not show the man looking at or waving at anybody.

Draper told police that he had owned a Smith and Wesson revolver, but it was missing. He said he last saw it under his car seat the morning of Moody's death, Bird wrote.

According to the affidavit, Draper inquired Jan. 21 about the payout of his life insurance, telling the representative that he was being investigated in a homicide and it was "about to get really bad ugly."

Draper tried to kill himself two days later in Dallas County, the affidavit said. Authorities found a notebook with handwritten messages in it.

"I am back in a corner," said the writings, which are attributed to Draper in the affidavit. "So much stuff went wrong with plans. Cops search house. They look for my guns. Not find what the [sic] look for. I not want to live in pin!! They want me to take lie test. I will not."

Police also found a round of ammunition in Draper's vehicle that "would be consistent with the projectile recovered from the body of the victim."

Information for this article was contributed by Brandon Riddle of Arkansas Online.

State Desk on 05/18/2018