A young black athlete whose murder conviction sparked an outcry that he was railroaded by an all-white jury was sent to the California Youth Authority on Friday and could be released in six years.
Offord Rollins IV, 19, technically was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Len McGillivray to 29 years to life in custody. But the CYA normally releases young offenders at the age of 25 if officials feel they have been rehabilitated.
Relatives and friends who had organized a "Justice for Rollins Coalition" were relieved that Rollins was not sent to state prison. But his father, Offord Rollins III, insisted that his son is innocent.
"Offord shouldn't be in there, period," the father said. "He shouldn't have been arrested in the first place."
Rollins, a high school football star in the community of Wasco and the 1991 California triple-jump champion, denied during his trial that he killed a girlfriend, Maria Madera Rodriguez, 17.
But prosecutors linked fibers from his car to fibers found on the girl's clothing when her body was found in a remote wooded area in western Kern County 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 1991.
Witnesses also testified that they saw a car similar to Rollins' leaving the area.
Rollins' family and civil rights leaders said the first-degree murder verdict was influenced by racism because the prosecution dismissed the only two blacks on the prospective jury panel.
Defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi argued in an earlier motion for a new trial that prosecutor Lisa Green "employed tactics and strategies which were designed to appeal to racial prejudices and stereotypes of the jury."
But McGillivray said the prospective black jurors were properly excused because they had indirect links to Lemucchi's law firm.
A pre-sentencing report from the CYA labeled Rollins a danger to women and "an extremely high risk for very dangerous behavior."
That view was disputed Friday by a defense psychologist and the defendant's father, who contended that Rollins had no history of violence.
"There wasn't a shred of evidence that proved my son has an ounce of violence in him," the elder Rollins said.