Guilty pleas follow victim’s kidnapping, torture

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, May 23, 2018

EDGARD — Two men linked to a torturous 2017 kidnapping spanning multiple parishes are facing a quarter century behind bars after pleading guilty last week in St. John the Baptist Parish.

The guilty pleas logged May 16 represent the first prosecutions of six defendants, some who face charges locally and in Lafourche Parish.

Jeffrey Slack Jr., 21, of Thibodaux, and Herbert Lee Woolens, 21, of Monroe, pleaded guilty to second degree kidnapping.

Their pleas, accepted on the morning their trials were supposed to begin in Edgard, are part of a negotiation offered by state prosecutors and approved by the victim, according to St. John Parish District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut.

Judge J. Sterling Snowdy presided over the pleas, which included 25-year prison terms at hard labor for each defendant with the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

“As part of its case, prosecutors planned to introduce a mountain of evidence, including recorded statements of the defendants, DNA, firearms, and a 2 x 4 piece of lumber used to beat the victim,” a release from the D.A.’s office said. “As a result of the plea, the defendants each avoided trial and the possibility of a mandatory life sentence if convicted as charged.”

The case was prosecuted by Dinvaut’s office with Assistant District Attorney Christopher Cortez leading with assistance from Justin Lacour and Henri Dufresne.

Paul Brown of Houma and Shannon Battiste of the St. John Parish Public Defenders Office represented the defendants.

Local involvement began Feb. 1, 2017, when authorities were alerted that several unknown assailants in the Thibodaux area took a Lafayette man hostage. It was then learned the victim was being housed in St. John Parish, most likely in a mobile home in LaPlace.

The assailants were then located in a residence on Beech Street.

St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre said authorities set up surveillance at the location and were planning an assault on the mobile home; however, that plan was thwarted when the suspects loaded themselves and the kidnapped victim in three separate cars, leading to a daring stop and foot chase by the Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police.

“It’s a miracle no one was hurt, no lethal force was used and there were no car crashes,” Tregre said at the time of the apprehensions. “It was highly successful and highly dangerous.”

Tregre said one vehicle managed to briefly escape, a second was stopped after a short vehicle pursuit and the third was abandoned quickly, “with the hostage left on the back floorboard.”

A foot pursuit started through LaPlace at noon “with everybody going to lunch and the highways full of citizens,” Tregre said.

One perpetrator threw a gun in a garbage can near Walgreens while being chased by police before getting apprehended near the Percy Hebert building.

Two other suspects made their way to Cricket Wireless, stripped their clothing and pretended to be customers trying to buy a phone, getting in line with the rest of the people in the store.

Those initially booked for aggravated kidnapping were Erin D. Carter, 32, of LaPlace; Jordan A. Jackson, 26, of Schriever; Daron D. Nolan, 21, of Thibodaux and Woolens.

The suspect count swelled two days later when Lloyd Joseph Johnson Jr., 32, of Reserve turned himself in on an aggravated kidnapping charge.

Slack was arrested three months later.

Louisiana State Police acted as the lead law enforcement agency, with a spokesperson saying the victim was initially brought to a residence in Thibodaux, restrained, held against his will and beaten overnight.

When discussing the prosecutions this week, Dinvaut said there are active cases being pursued by her office against Carter, Jackson, Nolan and Johnson.

According to Dinvaut’s office, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office also contributed to the arrests.

Prosecutors said during the kidnapping the victim was held at gunpoint, blindfolded, beaten and threatened for more than 12 hours before being successfully rescued.