NATCHITOCHES, LA (KSLA) - A photograph of confessed killer Phillip DeSelle has been released to the family of his victim, just days before his early release from prison.
DeSelle will walk free Thursday, January 22, having served less than half of a 50-year sentence for killing 11-year-old Averie Grace Evans in Natchitoches 24 years ago.
"She was special," says Erin Keyser of her niece. "She had a little something different. She would have done wonderful things, and we would've loved to have watched her grow up and accomplish things."
Now, Averie's family is determined to make sure she is not forgotten, and that the community where her killer is expected to live knows who he is.
Averie disappeared while selling candy door-to-door for a school fundraiser on November 5, 1990. She would have turned 12 the following month.
An anonymous letter sent to police 2 days later saying she was "with God" was later traced to DeSelle, who ultimately confessed to killing her after she came to his door.
DeSelle told authorities that he put Averie's body in a dumpster at a boat launch on Sibley Lake in nearby Oak Grove, and tossed her bike into the lake.
The bike was recovered, but a search of the landfill in DeSoto Parish where the trash from the dumpster would have ended up turned up no remains.
Because prosecutors did not have a body, they let DeSelle plead to manslaughter and aggravated kidnapping. He got the maximum of 40 years for manslaughter and 10 for kidnapping, for a total of 50 years to be served concurrently.
He was denied parole in 2007, after Averie's family rallied opposition to his release with a petition signed by more than 5,300 people.
"During the parole hearing, we asked why and he said he was just having a bad day, and snapped," Keyser recalls. "So to me, that's indicative of somebody who is not really sorry. Maybe sorry he got caught."
Even though he was eligible every year since then, DeSelle never asked for another chance at parole.
"We were aware that he was working toward getting his sentence reduced by participating in all the things he could participate within the prison system, but we didn't know that it was going to cut off that much."
DeSelle, now 65, became eligible for release on good time parole supervision after serving 24 years of his sentence "as a result of diminution of sentence, (applicable good time statutes at the time the crime was committed)," according to Pam Laborde, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. "He still serves a 50-year sentence but he is eligible for release now because of the diminution laws in place when the crime was committed."
The law has changed since then, requiring 85% of sentences be served.
Averie's aunt says it was right after the holidays when she got the letter notifying her of DeSelle's pending release on January 22, 2015. "It was a shock for sure. It was devastating."
Once she made sure the entire family had been told the news, they got together and came up with a "game plan."
"You know, it's all about where you want to spend your energy, from our standpoint," Keyser explains. "Basically, since there is so little we can do, we just want to get the word out and protect that community down south where he's going."
That community, Keyser says, is somewhere near Ville Platte, where DeSelle is believed to have family. That is where he will be required to report to his probation and parole officer upon his release, and for the next 26 years.
"It's our duty to get the word out, because we feel like based on the body of evidence and didn't tell the truth all the time that he could do it again."
They're getting the word out through a Facebook page Keyser set up on Friday, called Justice for Averie.
It also serves as a place to remember the little girl who loved to play violin, and was "all in," no matter what she set her mind to doing." Keyser says they find solace in the memories of Averie that people are sharing there.
"We just want to honor Averie's memory and let people know not to forget, and that you really have to protect your children. Sometimes the threat is right around the corner and you don't realize it."
KSLA News 12 originally reported that the Department of Corrections has declined family and media requests for a current photograph of DeSelle. It is correct that the DOC will not release an offender's mug shot to the media, under DOC policy. However, LaBorde says the law requires the release of offender photographs to victims and their family members upon request.
LaBorde also says that the Department of Corrections would not have told the victim's family that the photo would not be released because it would make DeSelle a target.
At the time of our original report, LaBorde says there was no record of a request made by Averie's family. A request has since been made and a photo of DeSelle has been provided to the family, which was posted on the Justice for Averie Facebook Page Tuesday morning.