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DNA evidence helps resolve 1998 rape case

May 18, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Nearly eight years after the crime and more than four years since his arrest, Nelson Eugene Ryder pleaded guilty Wednesday in Franklin County Court to rape and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in state prison.

More prison time awaits him in another state if he completes the Pennsylvania sentence.

"This is a life sentence, anyway you cut it," defense attorney Allen Welch said after Ryder, who turns 45 next week, was led from Judge John Walker's courtroom.

The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole is unlikely to release Ryder after he serves the minimum sentence, and he then must serve all or part of a 15-year suspended sentence in Virginia for another rape, Welch said.

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"I have waited almost eight years for this day," the victim told Ryder. "My life has been on hold because of what you, Nelson Ryder, did to me."

On the morning of July 6, 1998, the victim, then 29, was working at Mattress Outlet, 1502 Lincoln Way East, when Ryder, of Stephens City, Va., entered the store under the pretense of making a purchase, Pennsylvania State Police said. When the woman turned her back, Ryder grabbed her from behind and assaulted and raped her, police said.

The case went unsolved for almost four years until DNA collected for the rape kit matched that of Ryder, who twice was convicted of rape in Virginia, police said.

Ryder had been convicted of rape in 1978 in Fairfax County, Va., and served about five years of a 12-year sentence, District Attorney John F. Nelson said. In 1984, Ryder was convicted of rape and served about 12 years of a 40-year sentence, and received a 15-year suspended sentence, Nelson said.

On Wednesday, Ryder pleaded guilty to rape and aggravated indecent assault in exchange for the dismissal of related charges of simple assault, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint and other charges of rape and aggravated indecent assault under different sections of the Pennsylvania Crime Code. As part of the agreement, Nelson said the prosecution agreed not to have Ryder sentenced under Pennsylvania's Three Strikes rule, which could have resulted in a 25- to 50-year sentence as a repeat felon.

Welch predicted Ryder would serve most, if not all, of the 30-year sentence in Pennsylvania and much of the 15-year sentence in Virginia. Virginia could seek to have Ryder committed civilly as being mentally ill and keep him locked up another three years, Welch said.

"You took my innocence, my safety, my peace of mind, my self-esteem, my soul," the victim told Ryder as she wiped away tears.

"Mr. Ryder, the only thing I can say to you is, 'You can thank God I never got my hands on you,'" the victim's husband said. "I'd rip you to shreds."

"She was just a victim of circumstances. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ryder said in his statement to the court. "I never thought about what I took from her."

Ryder said the long delay in the case had been mostly his doing as he sought to put off this judgment day.

"I prayed to God and realized I had made God my enemy, as well," Ryder said. "I deserve to be locked up. That's my just desserts."

"I took your life and I lost mine," he told the woman.

Walker gave Ryder credit for more than four years he has served since his arrest March 27, 2002. Because of the many continuances granted in the case, he is the longest-serving inmate in the county prison at 49 months, 20 days, Assistant Warden John Eyler said.

Ryder was ordered to pay $15,956.52 in restitution to the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Compensation Fund for a claim submitted by the victim. He also agreed to be designated as a sexually violent predator under Megan's Law, which requires lifetime registration with the state police.

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