By Peggy Lowe
They raised the boy right, taught him the difference between right and wrong and tried to get him the best education.
But sometime in his teens, Larry Ridings told the judge, his son, Ethan, became a “man child” who smoked too much marijuana, dropped out of school and lost his way.
Yet since he’d been in jail during the last year, charged with killing two young men in a drug deal gone bad, Ridings said Ethan had turned it all around. He was reading the Bible again, helping others, had given up rap music and cursing.
He’d hit rock bottom, and now he could climb back, Larry Ridings said, his wife, Kathie by his side.
“I’m proud,” the father said, choking up and looking directly over at his son sitting at the defendant’s table in Wyandotte County Court. “Very proud. You hear me?”
Ethan Ridings, 20, cheeks pink under his mask, sitting up straight in his blue suit, shook his head in understanding.
Despite stories of a major change in direction, Wyandotte County Judge Daniel Cahill sentenced Ethan Ridings of Johnson County to more than 13 years in prison Tuesday for killing two young men from Kansas City, Kan., during a small-time drug deal.
Ridings’ friend who was with him at the time, 19-year-old Andrew Manakul, was sentenced to probation in January by the same judge and is now free.
Eight Wyandotte County Sheriff’s officers stood by during the hearing, as Cahill noted that it was emotional for both sides. Many had to wait in the hallway because of COVID-19 social distancing regulations.
Calling it “a harsh but just sentence,” Cahill said Ridings knew it was a risky deal and dangerous enough that he had to steal his brother’s handgun before meeting up with the others.
“You don’t get to claim self-defense,” Cahill said. “When you went down there you knew it could happen.”
Manakul sought out his friend Ridings after he met two Wyandotte County men on Snapchat who wanted to buy weed from him, according to testimony.
For their part, the two deceased young men, Julian Frank, 19, and Abdu Wana, also 19, were happy to meet two guys from Johnson County, calling them “weak and vulnerable,” Ridings lawyer, Vincent Rivera said.
Frank and Wana bought an AK-47 two days before the meet-up and planned to rob Ridings and Manakul.
“This was never a drug deal,” Rivera said. “This was a robbery from square one.”
When the four met up the afternoon of March 2, 2020, near an old apartment complex, Frank got out of his car and got in the backseat of Manakul’s car. But suddenly, Wana was at Ridings’ window with the AK-47. Ridings pulled out the handgun he’d stolen from his brother and shot him, according to charging documents.
Frank began fighting with Ridings, who then shot Frank. Ridings and Manakul drove away, but Manakul turned himself in to Overland Park police the next day.
Why Ridings shot Frank was the part he couldn’t understand, Cahill said. If Frank was fighting with his hands, Ridings should have known he wasn’t armed, Cahill said.
“There were a lot of ways you could have gotten Julian out of the car without putting two in him as well,” Cahill said. Julian’s mom, Jackie Frank, was sitting in the court’s front seat, crying and shaking her head in agreement.
Ridings echoed his father’s story about his change in direction, saying he was now living a Christian life and leading a Bible study class in the county jail. He begged Cahill to refrain from sending him to the “dark energy” of prison.
“Please have leniency with me,” Ridings said. “I want to make something of myself.”
Cahill told him that he is young and has a good support system of friends and family, “a lucky break by the God described to me today.” For the first count of second-degree murder, Cahill sentenced Ridings to 13.8 years, for the second count, 12.9 years, which are to run concurrently.
Ridings was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, which was pleaded down to two counts of second-degree murder, according to Kayla Roehler, a Wyandotte County assistant district attorney.
“He met force with deadly force,” she said.
After the sentencing, Ridings was led out of the courtroom, turning back one last time to look at his parents, who stared back at their son.
KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.