Phillip DeWoody.jpg

Phillip DeWoody, 53, of Opelousas.

Phillip DeWoody, the Opelousas man accused in the kidnapping of 72-year-old Joyce Thomas, has a juvenile criminal history that includes involvement in a homicide at age 12, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said Tuesday.

Thomas’ body was found in a wooded area off Interstate 49 between Sunset and Opelousas on Monday morning. Her cause of death is still under investigation. DeWoody was originally arrested on a count of aggravated kidnapping after Thomas’ disappearance Feb. 26 and upgraded charges against him are pending, Louisiana State Police spokesman Trooper Thomas Gossen said.

Guidroz said in a phone interview Tuesday that DeWoody was accused in the death of a 13-year-old girl when he was 12 years old. The sheriff said he received the information from law enforcement sources during the investigation surrounding DeWoody’s recent accused crimes.

Guidroz was not able to provide additional details about the homicide, the charges DeWoody faced, how the case was adjudicated, or the length of any time served. He said he has not personally reviewed DeWoody’s juvenile file or seen documents related to the juvenile case but was confident in his source’s information.

Juvenile criminal records are generally confidential, and the courts maintain strict rules for the release of information from juvenile records. 

“Records and reports concerning all matters or proceedings before the juvenile court, except traffic violations, are confidential and shall not be disclosed except as expressly authorized by this Code. Any person authorized to review or receive confidential information shall preserve its confidentiality in the absence of express authorization for sharing with others,” the Louisiana Children’s Code says.

Breaches of juvenile privacy can carry constructive contempt of court charges.

Guidroz said he felt comfortable sharing the information about DeWoody’s juvenile criminal history because it was being shared among other officials.

DeWoody has a lengthy adult criminal history, including armed robbery convictions and convictions for a 1993 prison escape that include a second-degree kidnapping charge for holding a Lincoln Parish prison guard at knife point. He was paroled in June 2019, according to records from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Top stories in Acadiana in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

“He was paroled as a serious violator and repeat offender with serious violations. There are so many other people in the criminal justice system incarcerated that in my opinion could have been released instead of him,” the sheriff said.

Guidroz said he doesn’t begrudge the parole board for executing their authority, but he wishes DeWoody’s application had been reconsidered, especially since he was still able bodied and capable of being a possible threat to society.

“This is scary for the everyday person who’s raising their family when this individual is living next to them and they don’t even know who he is. He goes to a new parish and nobody knows who he is until he commits a crime and we catch him. But when we catch him it’s too late because the crime has already been committed,” Guidroz said.

DeWoody is separately accused in the kidnapping of an Opelousas woman, who told police she was forced into a vehicle while walking near South Market and West Foulard streets in Opelousas on Feb. 22. The victim told Opelousas Police detectives she was driven to a property outside of town where she was sexually assaulted before being returned home, Detective Michael Hidalgo said.

The woman identified DeWoody from a photo lineup Friday and led detectives to the property where DeWoody brought her during the assault — the same area where Thomas’ body was later found. He’s been arrested on a count of second-degree kidnapping in that case, Hidalgo said.

Guidroz said his office is handling the sexual assault portion of that investigation because the crime occurred outside Opelousas city limits. Detectives are still working to determine exactly what occurred, and intend to collect fluid, hair and other samples from DeWoody for comparison to samples collected during a sexual assault kit completed on the victim, he said.

DeWoody is currently being held at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com