Ex-Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams avoided more time behind bars Friday when a judge gave him a suspended sentence in a sexual assault case in which Williams insisted he was innocent.
Two women accused the 23-year-old of groping them and reaching inside their pants without their consent at a party in December 2010. Williams' attorneys have insisted it was a case of misidentification, and his conviction rested mainly on the testimony of the women, who identified Williams as their attacker after police showed them a photo of the Cowboys basketball team.
Williams faced up to two years in prison after a jury convicted him in July on counts of rape by instrumentation and sexual battery. However, he continued to insist he was innocent and had requested a new trial based on what his attorneys said was new evidence.
Payne County District Judge Phillip Corley denied Williams' request for a new trial but gave him a sentence that allowed him to avoid prison time. Williams received two one-year sentences to be served at the same time. Both were suspended.
Corley also ordered Williams to register as a sex offender.
Defense attorney Cheryl Ramsey said she was "very upset'' by the sentence and would appeal. Ramsey said she wants a new trial so Williams can have the opportunity to be found not guilty and have his name cleared.
"We thought that we had proven that the new trial motion should be granted,'' she said.
Ramsey said she wouldn't let Williams speak with reporters because of the pending appeal.
When asked for a comment before Friday's sentencing, Williams said, "I'm innocent. I didn't do it.''
The Illinois native had been in the Payne County Jail since his conviction in July. He left the jail Friday in a car that pulled out of the garage and drove off without Williams speaking to anyone.
While he was in jail awaiting sentencing, several websites and Facebook pages popped up in support of him, along with an online petition urging the judge to suspend his sentence. His family insists Williams, who is black, is innocent - the victim of misidentification by white women at the party and of racial profiling by a jury of 11 whites and one Asian who were picked from a largely white jury pool.
Supporters packed the courtroom for Williams' sentencing, some wearing black T-shirts that said "Free Darrell 25.'' Williams' uniform number was 25. On the back, the shirts said, "Innocent, locked up! for 86 days, I am innocent!!!''
Security was tight, with nine uniformed deputies. Williams' mother was there but didn't speak to the media.
Friend Brandi Robertson gathered with other supporters outside the courthouse, awaiting Williams' release.
"Yes, he's out and he's free and that's great, but he has to register as a sex offender,'' she said. "So my heart is broken for him. He's a good person and was done wrong and I'm very upset about it.''
Ramsey tried during the trial to cast doubt on prosecutors' case by describing it as a "he said, she said situation.'' She noted neither woman suffered cuts or scratches or had torn clothing. Defense attorneys also claim Williams passed two lie-detector tests conducted by a State Bureau of Investigation examiner that were not admitted into evidence.
Meanwhile, one of Williams' accusers criticized people who believe race played a role in Williams' conviction or that she and the other victim had something to gain by coming forward.
"That's ignorance for people to say this is a race thing,'' she said in an interview with The Associated Press in August. "It's not about race; it's about rape. He raped two girls.''
The AP typically does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Assistant District Attorney Jill Ochs-Tontz said although prosecutors wanted jail time for Williams, they are "thrilled'' that he will forced to register as a sex offender and that he's a convicted felon.
"I hope that sexual assault victims across the state will see and know that no one is above the law,'' she said. "I honestly feel that Darrell Williams feels that he is above the law.''
Ochs-Tontz said the victims did not want to comment on Friday's sentencing and that they want to put the incident behind them.
Coach Travis Ford suspended Williams from the team in February 2011 but testified at Williams' trial that he believed he was innocent. Before his suspension, Williams led the team in rebounding and averaged 7.1 points per game.
Ford and several of Williams' former teammates attended the sentencing hearing. None spoke to reporters, and Ford didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
There were as many as 80 people at the 2010 house party, including some of Williams' teammates - all of whom wore matching Oklahoma State warm-up suits. The two women heard about the party at a bar and showed up.
The women did not identify Williams as their attacker until three days after the party, when they were shown a photo of the basketball team by Stillwater police. Before that, the women wrote an anonymous letter to police and some media outlets to report what happened.
At trial, one woman said Williams held her against her will and dragged her in a yard. She said the attack happened in the basement of the house and that no one came to her aid.