By Tracie Olson and Sara Johnson
Tim Wilson is low risk to reoffend and does not pose a danger to society, said the Board of Parole Hearings of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
In 1970, Mr. Wilson was born to teen parents ill equipped to parent a child. According to multiple sources, he grew up in a chaotic household, being shuffled from one family member to another. In his most tender and formative years, he suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, housing instability, and introduction to illegal drugs while still in elementary school. Although Mr. Wilson craved stability and guidance, he was offered none. As a result, Mr. Wilson manifested behaviors typical of a traumatized child, yet his trauma went unattended and untreated. Instead, Mr. Wilson learned to protect himself from danger through aggression, and he learned to abuse drugs to bury and blur his pain. From this background, Mr. Wilson entered adulthood a dangerous and risky young man.
In 1993, Mr. Wilson killed John O’Friel. The crime happened when John O’Friel, a man twice Mr. Wilson’s age and a man with a documented history of seeking out sex from young men, attempted unwanted, unsought, and nonconsensual sexual contact with Mr. Wilson. For the crime, Mr. Wilson received a sentence of 15 years-to-life in state prison. Mr. Wilson is currently serving his 26th year on that sentence.
It is no easy task to gain a recommendation of release from the Board of Parole Hearings. The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine if or when an inmate can be returned to society. The District Attorney’s Office and the victim’s family are invited to the parole hearing to present evidence on the issue. Other factors that are discussed at the hearing include counseling reports and psychological evaluations, behavior in prison, vocational and educational accomplishments in prison, involvement in self-help therapy programs like anti-addiction programs or anger management, and parole plans.
By law and in practice, the Board’s priority is to safeguard the public. If the Board believes an inmate’s release will jeopardize public safety, the Board does not recommend release.
In Mr. Wilson’s case, the Board of Parole Hearings heard evidence that an expert administered a psychological evaluation that focused on dangerousness and found Mr. Wilson to be in the lowest category of risk to the community. The Board of Parole Hearings additionally heard evidence that Mr. Wilson had zero prison disciplinary write-ups for the last decade-and-a-half, obtained his GED, obtained vocational training in multiple subjects, committed to sobriety resulting in 21 years clean and sober, attended numerous self-improvement programs to include anger management, substance use, and recovery classes, attended a victim impact course in an effort to further process the pain he caused, committed to a continued Christian faith, and successfully held numerous jobs while in prison. Further, the Board of Parole Hearings heard evidence of Mr. Wilson’s positive mentoring of other inmates and his sister outside of prison. Mr. Wilson’s work supervisors at CDCR praised him for his leadership qualities, competency, consistency, willingness to help others, sincere remorse, insight, integrity, and principle. None of his accomplishments are in dispute.
At the same hearing, Mr. O’Friel’s family expressed their desire to block release. No doubt Mr. O’Friel’s family is marred by great pain – pain so palpable that it likely obscures everything else. Mr. O’Friel’s family is not objective, but no one has ever said they have to be.
The Board of Parole Hearings considered the wishes of Mr. O’Friel’s family, but also considered the evidence of Mr. Wilson’s transformation and rehabilitation. After considering all of the information, the Board of Parole Hearings recommended Mr. Wilson’s release.
Upon release, Mr. Wilson will remain on parole supervision for the rest of his life. Nearing 50 years old, the evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Wilson is unlikely to commit any further crime of violence. While Mr. O’Friel’s family can never be faulted for how they feel nor told that their loss is anything short of incalculable, we should consistently be reminded of the great words of lawyer and NYU School of Law professor Bryan Stevenson, “But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of reciprocal humanity.” (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.)
Tracie Olson is the Yolo County Public Defender and Sara Johnson is a paralegal in the Yolo County Public Defender’s office.