Man gets 205 years for setting girlfriend on fire

A College Park man got 205 years in prison after being found guilty of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend in their apartment’s bathroom, and setting her on fire during a fit of jealous rage.

A Clayton County jury found Orville Cromwell Brooks, Jr., 30, guilty, Friday, on all charges, except arson, in the January 2011 attack on Tara Best, 20. Brooks showed no emotion and refused to accept responsibility for the crimes when Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter asked if he wanted to speak.

"I'm sorry for everything that happened, but it was accidental," said Brooks. "I just want to go on."

But the jury didn't buy his story, finding Brooks guilty on eight counts of aggravated battery, criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of an officer, drug possession, criminal damage to property and false imprisonment.

Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said she was "overwhelmingly grateful" for the sentence and spoke briefly to Tara Best outside the courtroom, while embracing her.

"Do something important with your life," said Lawson. "God saved you for a reason."

Judge Carter also spoke to Best after the sentencing, calling her up in front of the bench as the courtroom emptied of spectators.

"You have a future, this did not kill you physically," said Carter. "Don't let it kill you mentally and emotionally. Look at right now and the future. When people want to know, 'Are you the one who?’–– tell them, 'I am the one who survived.' Put a smile on that beautiful face of yours, and survive."

Best's parents, Nicole Ramsey and Rodney Best, made victim-impact statements before Carter sentenced Brooks. Both asked for the maximum sentence, 207 years.

"This was a malicious act, she didn't deserve this, she was a good kid," said Ramsey. "She spent three months on life support and was in the hospital for six months. She couldn't feed herself or use the bathroom on her own. It was like I had birthed her all over again."

Rodney Best was just as passionate, but grew angry and emotional as he addressed the court. "My daughter was vibrant, physical, sweet, loving," he said. "She was on the swim team, the step team in high school. She wanted to go into the Navy. I was happy to hear that. I thought she'd finish with him and go into the Navy. He was controlling, abusive, bullying and possessive."

Best said he doesn't think his daughter could handle military life now.

"The psychological effects, the injuries to her body, post-traumatic stress disorder, the nightmares," he said. "I just don't know, now, that she could join the Navy."

His voice raised and tightened as he scowled at Brooks. "I saw him in the courtroom, there is no type of remorse," he said. "If he'd taken a plea, that would be a sign of remorse. He sits there, rocking in his chair. The coldness, callousness. This thing that happened to my daughter shouldn’t have been committed. He left my daughter to die and other people could have died that day."

After the sentencing, Best said she wants to return to school. "I think I have a bright future," she said. "With everything I've gone through, I'd like to be a recreational therapist."

Best agreed with the sentence. "I think this is a great outcome," she said. "I think he was a real coward for saying it was an accident. It was intentional. He meant to do what he did to me. I forgive him, but will never forget. I'd like to ask him why he'd do something like this to me."

Lawson told the jury that Brooks' intention that day was to kill Best and leave her burning body inside their home at Brookstone Apartments. Lawson told jurors that the fire could have easily spread to other units, killing or injuring other residents.

Instead, Best ran for her life from the unit. Three horrified witnesses recounted from the stand the day they looked out their apartment windows to see a woman engulfed in flames running through the parking lot. Brooks was chasing her. He told police he was trying to put out the flames, but witnesses said when they began coming out of their front doors, Brooks ran the other way and fled the area altogether.

The three men rushed to help Best and officials said their actions likely saved her life. Lawson said she'd like to see the three commended for their heroism.

Brooks was on the run for three days, evading arrest and telling friends he'd poured gas on his girlfriend and set her on fire because he was mad at her for her interest in other men. When police caught up to him, he resisted capture and was in possession of drugs.

Defense attorney Rand Csehy told Carter he plans to file a motion for a new trial.