STILLWATER — After Darrell Williams' brother was shot to death in 2009 in a Chicago neighborhood, his mother and aunt knew what had to be done to spare him the same fate. A promising basketball player, Williams was hastily enrolled at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater — a town tucked away on the high prairie where a kid from the inner city could make good.
So Williams, armed with big dreams and a knack for the game, made the most of his time at OSU, leading the team in rebounding and averaging more than 7 points a game in 2010.
That all changed at an off-campus party after a home game in December 2010, where he would be accused of assaulting two women and face a jury that convicted him last month of sexual battery and rape by instrumentation.
As Williams, 22, sits in the Payne County Jail awaiting sentencing Friday — jurors recommended a year in prison for each of the rape counts — there has been a groundswell of support for his case. Several websites and Facebook pages have popped up in support and one online petition urging the judge to suspend his sentence and set him free has more than 1,700 signatures.
The player's family insists Williams, who is black, is innocent — the victim of misidentification by the white women at the party and of racial profiling by a jury of 11 whites and one Asian member who were picked from a largely white jury pool.
One friend of Williams', Brooke Brant, said the case has nothing to do with race.
"He passed two voluntary polygraphs," Brant said. "These two girls have lied, and the jury believed their word. I know Darrell's character; he would never do anything sinister."
The polygraphs were conducted by a State Bureau of Investigation examiner, and Williams' lawyers say he passed both.