ST. LANDRY PARISH — A year after an Evangeline Parish woman was kidnapped and murdered, her family says they're getting some closure knowing her killer will spend the rest of his life in prison. This week Phillip DeWoody was sentenced to serve three life sentences in the disappearance and death of Joyce Thomas. He pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including first degree murder.
Thomas went missing from her Ville Platte apartment last year. During that time, investigators say DeWoody demanded ransom from her family. Her body was later found along the I-49 service road between Sunset and Opelousas.
DeWoody has a lengthy criminal history involving violence against women. He was in prison, but released on parole 91 years early, just weeks before Thomas' murder. KATC Investigates obtained the audio recording of the June 2019 meeting of the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole that ended with Dewoody being set free 91 years early.
To see that story and hear the recording, click here.
One year later, the pain of losing a mother remains for Thomas' daughter Brecky Lavigne. When DeWoody was sentenced for her mother's murder, Lavigne placed a photo from her mother's funeral in front of him.
"Made sure that when he looked, he was looking directly at my mom's picture," Lavigne said. "He tended to keep his head down during the process, but I directed him to look at her picture on several occasions when I was speaking with him. I told him to look at me. 'I want you to see me because I see you.'"
She added, "I told him, 'You took the backbone of our family,' and I expressed to him that he was given the opportunity to be released and be productive in the community. He came out not eight months later. Not only did he murder my mom, he kidnapped and violated another woman. He had no intention on being all that he said to the parole board."
The family was part of the decision on what DeWoody would face for his crimes. While the death penalty was on the table, Lavigne says it's something her family couldn't approve.
"It was more of our faith," Lavigne said. "I don't believe we have the right to take life, just like he didn't have the right to take my mother's life. That's not the right for us to do. That's for God."
With DeWoody now sentenced, the family is now looking forward and as they have in the past year, they'll be relying on their faith.
"There's still hope," Lavigne said. "With hope there's healing and we're going to heal. We have a faith within our family. We're going to get past this and we hope we make it where her name lives on in us."