Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis' murderer, Rollin Oliver gets maximum of 26 years in prison

DENVER - Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis' murderer, Rollin Oliver, was sentenced to the maximum 26 years in prison on Friday afternoon.

The 32-year-old Hollis was shot in the head while trying to break up a fight during a crowded jazz concert in City Park on the night of June 24, 2012.

Oliver pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in April. Under the plea agreement, Oliver's faced between 16 to 26 years in prison. By pleading guilty he avoided trial on the more serious first-degree charge and a potential life sentence.

The 22-year-old Oliver didn't dispute firing the shots, but he and his attorneys argued that he fired in self-defense as he was running from a group of men who had attacked his friend and he didn't intend to kill the officer.

But the judge said last fall the evidence indicted Oliver had fired indiscriminately into the park crowded with concert-goers.

Before sentencing Friday, Hollis' mother told Judge Brian Whitney, "(I'm) asking you to give him the same opportunity he gave my daughter."

Deryl Oliver teared up as he pleaded with the judge to show his son leniency. The father apologized to Hollis' family and the Denver Police Department.

After the sentencing, Oliver's father said: "I understand why the judge went the way he did, the police department, the loss of a valuable officer. I just felt that he could've considered my son's plight a little more than what he did. Just have to live with it I guess."

"It was just a tragic turn of events for everybody involved. It's been a nightmare since it started," Deryl Oliver said. "I feel for (my son), I feel for her, the officer and her family. I feel for the loss of the Denver Police Department."

The father said the shooting was out of character for his son.

"He's never harmed anything or anyone in his life," Deryl Oliver said. "To take a human life like that, he's devastated. He can't get it out of his mind. He has nightmares about it....It's something that will always plague him for as long as he lives."

Hollis' death rocked her fellow police officers and the community.

She was a single mother raising a 12-year-old daughter. She also was president of the Denver Black Police Officers Organization.

"We use to say you get a conviction when someone committed a crime and we do that in hopes of bringing closure for the family members," Denver Police Chief Robert White said after the sentencing. "I don't know if we can ever bring closure to a mother, father and a daughter who lost their loved one." 

"I'm just hoping it helps in the healing process. There's no justice for someone who loses their life senselessly," White said.

The chief said officers are still struggling with Hollis' death, as the one year anniversary looms on Monday.

However, he stressed that the tragic loss "has brought us all together. I think we have a greater appreciation for each other, for what we're asking men and women to do."

The shooting at the end of a City Park Jazz concert sent hundreds of panicked people running and ducking for cover.

Oliver was arrested in the park  minutes after the shooting.

A witness told investigators he saw a black man running away, "looking back and firing a small handgun," according to an arrest affidavit.

After his arrest, Oliver told police that he and a friend were walking back to their car when they were surrounded by several men. He said he feared he was going to get punched, so he pulled out his gun and fired twice at two men, who then stopped coming at him.

Hollis was standing about 50 yards from the gunman when the bullet struck her in the head.

Detective Jaime Castro testified during an October hearing that four bullet casings recovered at the scene matched the gun found in Oliver's waistband when he was arrested.

Defense attorneys argued that Oliver should face trial on lesser charges, saying there was no premeditation and he didn’t intend to kill anyone.

The judge in the case said last fall that the trajectory of the bullets, one hitting the ground and another hitting high on the wall of the park pavilion building, indicated that Oliver was indiscriminately shooting into a crowd and this warranted a trial on first-degree murder.