DENVER - The man who opened fire in a crowded park, killing Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder early Friday afternoon.
By pleading guilty, Rollin Oliver, 22, is avoiding trial on a more serious first-degree murder charge, and a potential life sentence.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Oliver's sentencing range is from 16 to 26 years.
"This has been a very difficult decision for the family and for the Office of the District Attorney," said prosecutor Tim Twining. "We made the decision today with the family's understanding, and will go forward with sentencing."
District Attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said prosecutors spent a lot of time with the family discussing what a just outcome would be in this case.
"Justice is different for different cases," Kimbrough said. "There are some cases that, based on circumstances, almost demand that they go to trial. And there are cases where justice is achieved by negotiating a guilty plea."
The Denver Police Department acknowledged the guilty plea.
"The death of Officer Celena Hollis has been, and continues to be, a tragic and difficult reality for the men and women of the Denver Police Department," Police Chief Robert White said in a written statement. "Along with the community, DPD has supported the Hollis family since the fatal shooting occurred on June 24. Today, we continue to support them and their decision to concur with the District Attorney’s recommendation of guilty plea to second-degree murder charges. It is my sincere hope that this decision will bring the Hollis family comfort as they remember an exceptional woman and officer who was devoted to her family and friends, her community, and to the citizens of Denver."
Oliver was arrested June 24, 2012 shortly after the shooting that killed Hollis during a nighttime jazz festival at City Park.
A witness told investigators he saw a black man running away, "looking back and firing a small handgun," according to Oliver's arrest affidavit.
Oliver didn't dispute firing the shots, but he and his attorneys argued that he fired in reaction to a threatening group of men and didn't intend to kill the officer.
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.
Hollis' death rocked the Denver Police Department and the community.
The 32-year-old Hollis was a single mother raising a 12-year-old daughter. She was also president of the Denver Black Officers Organization.
"The death of Officer Hollis is a great loss to the community, and the circumstances are tragic for everyone," Denver DA Mitch Morrissey said in a statement provided by his office. "Our thoughts are with her family and all those affected by her death."
Oliver will be sentenced on June 21.