Assistant district attorney makes sure man stays behind bars
Peter O’Hara, deputy district attorney for El Dorado County, went to prison earlier this month.
O’Hara traveled roughly 750 miles south to 110-degree Imperial to fight the parole of Alfred Brooks. He is serving 15 years to life for the 1988 murder of a South Lake Tahoe woman.
It wasn’t a vacation for the veteran prosecutor. After arriving in San Diego, he rented a car for the 2.5-hour drive to Imperial, a desert town of roughly 8,000 and home to Centinela State Prison.
Inside the prison sits Brooks, who in April 1988 shot and killed his estranged wife, Roberta Woody, at her apartment on Brockway Street.
He was 19 years old at the time. She was 21 and had a baby.
O’Hara believes, as does a prison psychiatrist, that Brooks remains a threat to the community. If he is ever paroled, state law would require Brooks to return to El Dorado County. He was denied this time, but will have another chance in 2006.
While in prison, Brooks has attended but not completed work training classes. He hasn’t enrolled in any alcohol or drug self-help programs. In addition, Brooks did not have an employment plan if he were released.
A parole hearing consists of two hearing officers appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, a district attorney representative from the county the criminal was convicted in, the prisoner and a parole board appointed attorney.
The victim’s family members can speak but none appeared, O’Hara said. Brooks represented himself.
The parole board considers three areas before granting release: risk to society, past behavior and a psychiatrist’s report.
Besides not reforming himself in prison, Brooks spent time in prison for sexual assault, O’Hara said. He was out for eight months before shooting his estranged wife, which he said was an accident.
During the two-hour hearing, Brooks said he is cured from alcoholism because he hasn’t touched it in prison, O’Hara said. Called “pruno,” the prison alcohol is made by fermenting fruit.
O’Hara had to travel through five gates before getting to the parole hearing. Guards, although not menacing, were “football lineman-sized guys,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara has been to other prisons, including Folsom State Prison. While showing a class around Folsom, a lockdown occurred and the attorney and students were in a stairwell with an unarmed guard.
Fences 30-feet high with razors surround the facility. O’Hara was reminded of a “no-hostage” policy, meaning if the prisoners took him hostage the guards would act as if he wasn’t there.
The district attorney’s office has an allotted budget for such traveling. Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe, who attended a parole hearing for Brooks about three years ago, believes O’Hara has traveled the farthest.
“That’s about as far (south) as you can go and still be in California,” he said.
People convicted of murder and who receive life sentences with the possibility of parole are tracked by the district attorney’s office. Uthe couldn’t get a number of how many the office covers. Usually the office is notified 60 days before a parole hearing takes place.
— E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com