Philadelphia DA will accept life sentence for killer

Saharris Rollins will serve life without chance of parole.
Saharris Rollins will serve life without chance of parole.
Posted: January 14, 2012

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said Friday that it would not conduct a new sentencing hearing for a Death Row prisoner whose sentence was reversed by a federal appeals court.

The decision, announced at a brief hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, means Saharris Rollins, 50 - found guilty and sentenced to death in 1987 in a drug-related shooting - will spend life in prison without chance of parole.

Rollins' case is one of a series of Death Row appeals that have resulted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit's vacating a sentence and ordering the District Attorney's Office to hold a new death penalty hearing or accept a life sentence.

In some cases, such as the prosecutor's Dec. 7 announcement in the case of convicted police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the death sentence was vacated because of judicial errors in the penalty hearing. In others, such as Rollins', the death sentence was thrown out because the court determined that the defense attorney had been ineffective.

Rollins' case was one of several cited in an Oct. 23 Inquirer article about appeals courts ordering resentencings of Pennsylvania Death Row inmates because of underpaid or unprepared defense counsel.

The Inquirer article found that more than 125 capital murder trials in Pennsylvania - 69 from Philadelphia - had been reversed or remanded for new hearings on appeal because mistakes or lack of preparation by defense attorneys deprived the accused of a fair trial.

In 1987, a Common Pleas Court jury convicted Rollins of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in the Jan. 22, 1986, shooting of Raymond Cintron in a North Philadelphia home.

The jury found that Rollins shot Cintron, 27, after Cintron's sister refused to trade cocaine for methamphetamine. When Rollins pointed a gun at Violeta Cintron, her brother dropped a 1-year-old child he held and wrestled with Rollins for the gun.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Rollins' conviction and sentence in 1990, but last year the Third Circuit disagreed. The federal appeals judges ruled that the jury might well have sentenced Rollins to life had his lawyer presented mitigating evidence about Rollins' mental impairment and history.

The federal appeals court ordered the district attorney to hold a new penalty hearing within 180 days or else Rollins would be sentenced to life.

On Friday, Assistant District Attorney James Berardinelli told Lerner that his office's review of Rollins' case, including the since-discovered mitigating evidence and the difficulty of relitigating a case almost 25 years old, persuaded prosecutors not to seek a new penalty hearing.

Rollins participated in the hearing via closed-circuit television from the Greene state prison, where most Death Row inmates are housed.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and wearing a skull cap, Rollins frowned when Lerner asked if he had anything to say before sentencing.

"No, not really," Rollins replied. "I believe my attorneys spoke about everything that needed to be spoken about."


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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