BENTON, La. — A Bossier Parish man has admitted that he, and not a neighbor who spent five years being investigated and wrongfully prosecuted, was responsible for a string of deer-camp vandalisms and arsons that began more than a decade ago.
The guilty plea by Gary Wilson puts to an end the criminal part of a bizarre case involving dozens of crimes northwest of Benton between 2010 and 2017 that targeted mostly deer hunters and their camps and leases. Camps and deer stands were burned and vandalized, spikes were planted in roads, dogs were killed and shots were fired into a residence and into a deer hunter’s pickup. Three families who lived in the area wound up moving because they feared for their safety.
Before it was over, an innocent man would be prosecuted for years; the initial investigation and prosecution would be discredited; Wilson would go from perceived victim to accused perpetrator; and his wife and son died in what authorities said was a joint suicide leap from a bridge.
Wilson, 58, pleaded guilty in Bossier District Court this week to racketeering. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, he got an eight-year suspended sentence and agreed to forfeit $150,000 of the cash bond his father posted for him after his arrest.
Of the total, $62,000 will be shared by various victims who suffered property damage because of Wilson’s actions. The remaining money will be split between the Bossier District Attorney’s Office and Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office for expenses related to the investigation and prosecution, District Attorney Schuyler Marvin said.
“Hopefully, this will allow those victims to be made whole,” said Marvin, who added he was pleased to be able to reach a plea and get the case resolved.
But not everyone is happy with the deal.
“Todd Phillips and his family are victims of Gary Wilson as well as the others, but no restitution has been offered to them,” Phillips’ attorney, Nichole Buckle, said in reaction to the district attorney and sheriff’s department getting part of the forfeiture money.
In an affidavit filed in court as part of his guilty plea, Wilson, who lived at the end of a road where much of the vandalisms occurred, admitted committing arsons and property damage and planting false clues “to lead law enforcement to accuse others of my illicit activities.”
The wrongly accused neighbor — Todd Phillips, an executive at a manufacturing plant in Shreveport – was cleared after new Bossier sheriff’s investigators were assigned to the case and they concluded Wilson was responsible.
Phillips filed a wrongful-arrest suit alleging Bossier authorities did a slipshod investigation and persecuted him for five years. As part of his plea agreement, Wilson agreed to testify in that case, which is pending in federal court.
Wilson and his son, Coty, were arrested in 2018 and accused of conspiring to torment the deer hunters. Coty Wilson was free on bond when he and his mother, Jennifer, went missing days later. Her car was abandoned on the Highway 2 bridge over the Red River and their bodies were later found in the river. Authorities said a “goodbye” note was in the car and they believe mother and son tied themselves together and jumped to their deaths.
Phillips is chief executive officer of Frymaster, a worldwide supplier of commercial fryers. He and his family eventually grew weary of being investigated and moved to Marshall, Texas, where they live on a horse farm. Phillips is set to retire from the company this spring, his attorney, Buckle said.
Wilson moved to his parents’ home in south Arkansas after his arrest. His Louisiana probation will be transferred to Arkansas, Marvin said.
A simple battery charge filed against Wilson’s mother last year for an incident that took place during one of Wilson’s hearings was dismissed in connection with Wilson’s plea, Marvin said.
Wilson’s attorney, Spencer Hays, declined comment on Wilson’s decision to get the case over and plead guilty.