KATC Investigates has obtained the audio recording of the June 2019 meeting of the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole that ended with Phil Dewoody being set free 91 years early.
The parole hearing lasted 15 minutes and all three board members there voted to release Dewoody.
Dewoody, 52, is currently in prison at Hunt Correctional, accused of the aggravated kidnapping of Joyce Thomas, whose body was found Monday, and of the second-degree kidnapping of an Opelousas woman. A standard condition of parole would be that he not commit another crime.
Dewoody has a lengthy adult criminal record, and was released 91 years early by the Louisiana Parole Board last summer. He has convictions for armed robbery, aggravated escape and kidnapping, and is accused of using a homemade knife to kidnap a female prison guard during an escape from prison. At the time of his arrest following the 1993 escape, a Lincoln Parish law enforcement official alleged that Dewoody had kidnapped and raped an elderly woman while on the lam. He's never been convicted of that. He was eligible for parole despite a lengthy sentence because of a Louisiana law governing parole. You can read our story about that here.
Here's a recording of the hearing:
During the hearing - which lasted 15 minutes - no members of the parole board asked Dewoody anything about any of his crimes. The board does conduct an investigation ahead of the hearing which would not be public record.
The three members of Dewoody's 2019 Parole Board hearing - Keith Jones, Brennan C. Kelsey, and Pearl Wise. Photos courtesy Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole.
A letter was sent by the Lincoln and Union Parish District Attorney's Office in April 2019, expressing opposition to Dewoody's parole. The letter can be found below in its entirety, detailing the crimes Dewoody was convicted of. It may be upsetting to some readers.
In the letter, First Assistant District Attorney Laurie Whitten James and Criminal Division Assistant John Jacobs of the Third Judicial District "strongly urge [the parole board] to deny parole to Phillip W. Dewoody. He should serve the entirety of his sentences for his heinous actions. Seldom does our society see such a continued course of criminal activity in which a defendant shows such ruthless disregard for his victims."
The letter continues on to detail Dewoody's crimes up to that point. The state requested that the parole board "take into account the entirety of his criminal actions, his disregard for the safety of others, his repeated escape attempts and his extremely violent nature." The DA representatives add that Dewoody deserves to serve the respective sentences he had previously received.
In the June 2019 parole hearing, there was a mention of law enforcement and his victims objecting to Dewoody's parole. It came from board member Pearl Wise.
"There has been victim opposition expressed. There's nothing you can do about that, it still shows up," she says.
During the hearing, Dewoody told the board that he was in protective custody for a time.
"At that time, I let it be known that I am gay and I have problems dealing with people who have wanted me to be involved with them in sexual ways and I had reported that incident to security and I was placed in protection until I could be separated from those people," Dewoody says.
He also talks about the programs he's completed in prison, including anger management, substance abuse, pre-release training and a GED program. He also said he'd completed three semesters of online college, studying business administration. Dewoody and his attorney tell the parole board members he plans to complete a parole program at The Refinery in Opelousas, and that he promises not to travel north of Alexandria. His crimes were all committed in northwest Louisiana.
Dewoody says that he lost 443 days of good time, but with his good behavior over the past six years, he earned it all back. When asked why he lost his good time in the first place, he says he got "several different write-ups" but doesn't say what for, and nobody asks.
When asked what he would do for a living by parole board member Keith Jones, he says he wants to be a truck driver eventually, and live in Texas near his father. He also says he's an artist and is good at carpentry, and there is a long discussion about what a great wood carver he is.
A representative of The Refinery in Opelousas says Dewoody was accepted into the Louisiana Parole Project, and can live there until he's ready to move to Texas. We asked the Louisiana Parole Project and The Refinery for a statement after learning these latest developments.
"He's extremely talented, his woodworking skills are pretty phenomenal," the representative says. "His character - he's a really great guy."
When asked for a final statement, Dewoody offers the following:
"I'd like to say I have remorse for the crimes that I've done and my victims that I've done these crimes to. In the beginning, I was on a path and it took this incarceration for me to realize and I really want to show that I've changed, I've matured since I've been here, and most of my incarceration has been toward art and rehabilitation in some in the programs offered here."
"Failure is not an option for me this time, and I hope and pray that this board will see fit to let me have another chance at life," says Dewoody.
There's also testimony about a study being done in Baton Rouge of older prisoners; the man who testifies says that older prisoners don't re-offend.
Board member Brennan Kelsey joins the other two members in approving Dewoody's parole, but list several conditions he must follow, including maintaining a curfew, donating $500 to a victim reparation fund, and finishing the Parole Project. After the Parole Project is completed, they add, Dewoody will go to Texas.
"Yes, I will," Dewoody says. "Thank you very much."
The April letter to the parole board finishes, "To grant Mr. Dewoody parole would be a miscarriage of justice and an insult to the lives that he endangered through his criminal acts."
Below is the letter from Lincoln and Union Parish DA's Office regarding Dewoody's parole. Victims' names have been redacted.