STILLWATER — The Reverend Jesse Jackson came to Stillwater on Thursday asking only one thing: a fair playing field for an athlete.
Jackson, 70, spoke at Mt. Zion Baptist church at a rally for convicted Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams.
Williams was found guilty July 23 on two counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery, stemming from an incident at a party in December 2010.
Sentencing for Williams, which will be determined by a judge, is set for Friday at the Payne County Court House.
Jackson visited Williams in jail on Thursday and reaffirmed the crowd that Williams has not given up hope yet.
“We visited Darrell this afternoon and had prayer with him,” Jackson said. “His spirits are strong, his faith is strong. He declares his innocence and believes God will guide him through.”
Jackson urged the crowd of more than 200 to show up peacefully to the court house on Friday. He wants them to stand behind Williams and show their support.
Jackson said he took up the case in defense of Williams because he knew his family and the upbringing Williams had in a rough Chicago neighborhood.
“We watched him growing up as a young high school student in Chicago, and we watched as his brother got shot down in cold blood,” Jackson said. “We watched as he made a break for Stillwater to come to school and obtain a high grade-point average, and he has been a source of joy for many. He's a responsible student and a responsible father and he has a certain appreciation for what he means and what he can mean.”
Brooke Brant, 29, and Brandi Robertson, 32, wore matching orange “Free Darrell” shirts to the rally. The women headed the campaign to bring attention to the Williams case. The women said they were grateful for the response and glad there had been positive feedback from people in the Stillwater community.
“I think this is being done in such a positive way that there can't be any negativity for Darrell, because there is no hatred being talked about and no one is bad mouthing anyone,” Brant said. “Everyone is being positive because we want to get attention to this case, because Darrell Williams was wrongly accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit.”
Josh Warren, a senior zoology major at Oklahoma State, said he came out to support Williams because he believes in his innocence. Warren wanted to make it clear that he didn't think race played any part in Williams' conviction. Williams is African-American.
“The story just didn't seem reliable,” Warren said. “I don't think it's a black vs. white issue. It's just whether or not people are being honest or not.”
Jackson ended the night by asking the crowd to show support to Williams' mother, Alice, and other family members who had traveled from Chicago for the sentencing.
“Without mercy, justice is too raw and too cold,” Jackson said. “We want the judge to be sensitive and caring in the sentencing tomorrow.”