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Phillip DeWoody, 53, of Opelousas, was booked on counts of first-degree murder and first-degree rape in two separate cases. In one, 72-year-old Joyce Thomas was kidnapped from Ville Platte and her body was later found in a wooded area off I-49 between Sunset and Opelousas. In the second incident, DeWoody is accused of kidnapping an Opelousas woman in her 50s and sexually assaulting her on the same property. 

The arraignment for Phillip DeWoody, the man accused in the killing of a deaf Ville Platte grandmother and the kidnapping and rape of an Opelousas woman, was moved to April while the court awaits involvement from capital defenders.

DeWoody faces counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and first-degree rape in the homicide of 72-year-old Joyce Thomas and the assault of an Opelousas woman in February 2020. Thomas’ body was discovered in a wooded area of Interstate 49 in Grand Coteau six days after DeWoody picked her up from her apartment in Ville Platte.

The first-degree murder charge carries the potential for the death penalty, which requires specialized representation.

DeWoody’s current assigned attorney, Ed Lopez, said he was assigned the case as a local caretaker and point of contact for prosecutors, but is not a certified capital defense attorney. He said DeWoody has been in contact with capital defenders in New Orleans but does not yet have a capital defender assigned to his case by the Louisiana Public Defender Board.

DeWoody’s arraignment has been rescheduled to April 15, and notice is being sent to the Louisiana Public Defender Board to either appoint a capital defender to the case or appear and give reason why a capital defense attorney is unavailable for DeWoody’s case, Lopez said.

DeWoody did not appear in court Thursday. The Opelousas woman DeWoody is accused of sexually assaulting and family members were present for Thursday’s hearing.

The 54-year-old is accused of forcing the Opelousas woman into his vehicle near the intersection of Market and Foulard streets on Feb. 22, driving her out of town to an abandoned property and sexually assaulting her, as she resisted and begged to go home, court documents say. DeWoody later returned the woman to the area where he abducted her.

On Feb. 26, an arrest affidavit says DeWoody picked Thomas up from her apartment complex on North Chataignier Street in Ville Platte. He text-messaged and called her family with ransom demands, even sending a video of Thomas inside an abandoned home. He issued threats against the family if they involved the police.

DeWoody was questioned in the case the day after Thomas’ disappearance and told investigators he left the 72-year-old at an area Walmart, which investigators disproved. Thomas’ body was later found on property adjacent to the abandoned home where the ransom tape was filmed. She was covered in a chemical substance consistent with bleach, the arrest affidavit says.

The abandoned property is the same location where DeWoody is accused of assaulting the Opelousas woman.

DeWoody had been on parole for eight months when the crimes occurred. He has prior criminal convictions for armed robbery, second-degree kidnapping and aggravated escape, among other charges. He became parole eligible under a 1990 geriatric parole law, which dictated offenders sentenced to 30 or more years would become parole eligible after serving at least 20 years and reaching age 45.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com