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Phillip DeWoody, 53, of Opelousas.

Despite a hefty prison sentence, accused kidnapper Phillip DeWoody was eligible for parole under a 1990 change to state law that adjusted parole eligibility for older offenders facing long prison sentences.

The Opelousas man is accused in the disappearance and death of Ville Platte resident Joyce Thomas, a deaf and mute 72-year-old woman whose body was found on a property along Interstate 49 between Sunset and Opelousas on Monday morning.

Upgraded charges against DeWoody are pending, State Police spokesman Thomas Gossen said at a media briefing Monday. He was originally arrested on a count of aggravated kidnapping Friday.

Thomas was last seen at her apartment complex on Chataignier Street in Ville Platte on Wednesday. A surveillance photo from her apartment showed DeWoody at her door the day she disappeared. He admitted to being at Thomas' apartment but has not confessed to her kidnapping or her death, Gossen said. 

DeWoody, 53, has a lengthy and violent criminal history dating to 1984 and was on parole for less than eight months . DeWoody was granted parole at a June 10 hearing at Dixon Correctional Center in East Feliciana Parish and was released on June 28.

He became parole-eligible in 2013 and was denied parole twice — on May 7, 2014, and March 7, 2016, according to information from Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick. DeWoody was serving a 117-year sentence for crimes including armed robbery, aggravated escape and second-degree kidnapping.

The majority of DeWoody’s sentence was without benefit of parole or suspension of sentence. He was also arrested in a 1993 sexual assault and armed robbery, but prosecutors chose not to move forward with the case because of the victim’s poor health and DeWoody’s existing prison sentences, according to court documents.

DeWoody was parole-eligible under Act 790, which stipulates that offenders sentenced to 30 years or more, with or without the benefit of parole, will become parole eligible after serving at least 20 years in prison and reaching the age of 45, Pastorick said in a statement.

The rule went into effect in 1990, he said.

A separate law dictates that offenders with armed robbery convictions are not eligible for Act 790 parole benefits, but that provision was signed into law in 1997 and only applies to offenders who committed armed robberies in 1997 or afterward, Pastorick said.

Pastorick said since his release, DeWoody has reported monthly to his parole officer, maintained employment and had a permanent residence, all conditions of his parole.

DeWoody is also accused in the abduction and sexual assault of an Opelousas woman on Feb. 22, just days before Thomas disappeared. Detective Michael Hidalgo with the Opelousas Police Department said DeWoody forced the victim into a vehicle while she was walking near South Market and West Foulard streets in Opelousas.

He brought her to a location outside of town where he sexually assaulted her, before returning her to her residence. The victim immediately reported the abduction and assault to police. The location where DeWoody took the victim is the same area along I-49 where Thomas’ body was found Monday, Hidalgo said.

The victim positively identified DeWoody as her attacker using a photo lineup on Friday, he said. He was booked on a count of second-degree kidnapping in that case on Sunday. The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office is handling the sexual assault portion of the investigation, Hidalgo said.

On Monday, DeWoody was transferred from the St. Landry Parish Jail to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said.

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