TAMPA — The 24-year-old South Carolina man accused of trying to kidnap WWE performer Daria Berenato from her home this past weekend will continue to be held without bail, a judge ruled Thursday evening.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Catherine Catlin found that Phillip Thomas II is a threat to the safety of the community and denied the defense’s motion to set bail.
Thomas is accused of traveling more than 450 miles from South Carolina to the Hillsborough County home of Berenato — who performs as WWE professional wrestling star Sonya Deville — to take her hostage early Sunday. Deputies say he had a knife and pepper spray.
Thomas faces charges of aggravated stalking, armed burglary of a dwelling and attempted armed kidnapping. Prior to his arrest, investigators say he allegedly sent hundreds of messages to Berenato through social media — some of which were direct threats of violence to her and her family.
Thomas was represented by Assistant Public Defender John Grant, who argued that Thomas’ bail should be set at $2 million — an amount he said his client could not afford — and that authorities could keep track of him using an electronic monitoring device.
“I don’t see any way we can protect our community in Hillsborough County if we give him bail,” the judge said. “A GPS on him gives me no peace of mind. A GPS monitor does nothing for me.”
Thomas will remain in the county jail. The Thursday night hearing revealed additional details about the allegations against him. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said the incident took place just after 2:30 am. Sunday.
Berenato, 26, testified that she was sleeping in her bedroom when she was awakened by the sound of her house alarm. She said she then sprinted to her guest bedroom where her friend was sleeping, yelling, “please wake up, please wake up, please wake up.”
Berenato said she and her friend then sprinted to the living room. That’s when she saw a man in black clothes and a black coronavirus mask, standing in her back lanai outside a glass door, “just staring” at her.
“I was terrified, I was screaming, ‘What the f--k are you doing here,’” Berenato said.
Thomas’ face was completely blank, she said, apparently unbothered by the blaring of her house alarm.
He then began walking toward her “with no fear,” she said. Berenato said she then sprinted to her friend’s car, which she couldn’t get to start because she was in such a panic. After realizing her foot was on the brake and not the gas, she says she left her home while dialing 911.
In the days since, Berenato said she learned that Thomas sent hundreds of messages to her through social media channels. The messages, she said, included threats such as “delivering” the heads of her parents to her doorstep, as well as killing her sisters.
Berenato, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, testified that she never saw the messages before the incident. They had gone into a spam folder.
The Sheriff’s Office, which captured and arrested Thomas inside of Berenato’s home, said he started planning the abduction eight months ago. The threatening messages started way before then, prosecutors said, and didn’t stop until moments before the attack.
“Hey baby, look outside. I’m by your pool,” said one message read aloud in court.
It was sent just before the break-in.
Editor’s note: References to the victim’s home have been removed from this story.