Rich Rider extended a handshake and forgave his father’s killer in a Pottawatomie County courtroom Tuesday.
After the prosecution and defense rested in the murder trial of James Isaac South, 36, South’s fate was set to be in hands of jurors for deliberations today.
But in what was an unexpected turn of events late Tuesday afternoon, South — whose attorney said he was worried about the next life — chose an eternal path rather than facing the jury’s decision.
South appeared before District Judge John Canavan and entered a guilty plea in the death of Albert Rider, 53.
Defense Attorney Cregg Webb said South recanted his earlier testimony from the trial and first asked to speak to District Attorney Richard Smothermon, and then to the family, which resulted in him speaking directly with Rich Rider.
“He wanted to come clean — he was more concerned about the next life than this life,” Webb said.
Rich Rider said South told him what happened when his father was killed Oct. 8, 2012.
“He said it was exactly how the district attorney had the case presented,” Rider said, adding he and South prayed together during their conversation.
And as the courthouse was closing for the day, a lot of activity was just beginning in Courtroom No. 1, where preparations were made for South to enter a blind plea, which put his fate in the hands of the judge rather than the jury.
Just before court reconvened, Rich Rider, surrounded by family members, approached the defendant, shook his hand and thanked him for stepping up and taking responsibility for his father’s death.
“It’s one of those days you can’t explain,” Rich Rider said after leaving the courtroom. “It’s totally a God-given day — he had his hand in this whole thing.”
After his talk with South, Rich Rider said he believes his father died so others could see God, adding this case has changed many lives.
“I got to pray with him…I told him I forgive him,” Rich Rider said, appearing at peace after South’s plea. “An hour ago I hadn’t forgiven him.”
South was one of three defendants charged in the shooting death of Albert Rider, a 1977 Bethel High School graduate who worked as an electrician.
Rich Rider, who said his father left behind a good legacy, said, “he’d be proud of James for owning up today.”
Albert Rider’s widow, Jane, was in the courtroom as events unfolded Tuesday and also believes her husband would have been proud of South’s decision.
Page 2 of 3 - “Albert was a Christian soldier — that’s the way Albert would have wanted it,” she said.
The investigation into this case began the morning of Oct. 8, 2012, after Albert Rider, suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest, crashed his vehicle into a pipe fence and gate at a Pottawatomie County residence on New Hope Road. He later died from his wounds.
Earlier that day, Jane Rider, Albert’s wife of just nine days, returned to their rural Cleveland County home to discover several items missing in a burglary. She called her husband, who was on his way home. Rich Rider said his father stopped at a nearby store to see if anyone had purchased items with a lot of stolen change, which was among items taken from the residence.
Albert Rider then came across two men, South and Bradley A. Keith, 29, after noticing Keith was wearing his jacket that was taken from the home, Rich Rider said.
Albert Rider confronted the two men about the burglary and a brutal fight ensued, the son reported.
After talking with South about what happened, Rich Rider said while he learned his father put up quite a fight, he also confirmed it was the gunshot by South that was the fatal blow for his dad.
Rich Rider said his dad was a kid at heart who loved his family and his grandchildren.
“Dad was an extremely faithful man,” he said.
Jane Rider said her husband was one who often talked to people about God and would often help those who needed a ride or even a meal.
“Once you met Albert, you had a friend,” she said.
She said her husband believed in asking for forgiveness, something the family has done in this case.
“It would be a whole lot tougher without faith,” she said.
Now she holds on to memories. She said her husband helped her try and discover new things, taught her how to ride a motorcycle and even took her on her first cruise.
Both she and Rich Rider complimented the work of the district attorney and his investigators, the Pottawatomie County sheriff’s office and all those who have been there for the family.
“They treat you like family,” he said.
Judge Canavan accepted South’s guilty plea on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit burglary, robbery with a weapon and second-degree burglary. Formal sentencing is now scheduled Oct. 23.
Until then, South will remain jailed in the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center.
Keith, who also remains jailed in the Shawnee facility, has already been sentenced on a felony charge of robbery with a weapon in connection with this case. He has been sentenced to 35 years in prison and is awaiting transfer to the Department of Corrections.
Page 3 of 3 - A third suspect, Michael Preston Choate, 25, also is charged in connection with this case.
Watch for updates.