John Reynolds' supporters believe his jury conviction of second-degree manslaughter in the beating death of Kevin King was a travesty of justice.
They point out that even prosecution witnesses at his recent trial indicated he was acting as a peacemaker during an October 1994 fight outside an Olean coffee shop.
Thus the supporters, calling themselves "Justice for Johnny," have mounted a public campaign and hope to get help for Reynolds from elected officials.
In addition, petitions are being circulated in a call for leniency by Cattaraugus County Court Judge Larry Himelein, who will sentence Reynolds Nov. 3.
Reynolds, 25, bricklayer from Portville, chose a trial instead of a plea deal to lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. The jury handed down its verdict Sept. 17.
Reynolds, who could face five to 15 years in prison, also faces trial in a drunken-driving case from earlier this year.
Seven others, including two women and five men, will be sentenced the same day in the death of King. The accepted deals for convictions ranging from second-degree manslaughter to third-degree assault. All eight are free on bail until sentencing.
"What we're trying to do is just get the awareness out there," said Portville resident Cindy Gay, adding she is one of about 20 people steering the Justice for Johnny campaign.
She estimated that 120 supporters, some wearing T-shirts bearing a happy face and "Justice For Johnny," turned out to march through Olean recently in the group's first public demonstration.
"We also want the politicians to know that we find it ironic that sentencing is Nov. 3 and the election is Nov. 4. We will be there Nov. 4 to vote," Mrs. Gay added.
A form letter being circulated by the group states Reynolds refused an offer of a sentence ranging from probation to a one year in jail "because he trusted the system . . . and the system failed and now all we have is our faith in God and trust that someone will help."
The letter also claims the verdict was unjust because no supporting evidence was presented.
The manslaughter verdict, under the culpability statute of state law made Reynolds responsible for the actions of a group seen beating and kicking the 28-year-old King as he lay unconscious in the parking lot of a Town of Olean restaurant. Witnesses noted Reynolds was with the group and even Reynolds told police he was in the area of the fight.
However, Justice For Johnny maintains this section of the law "does not apply" because prosecution witnesses testified Reynolds "was a peacemaker that evening."
Mrs. Gay said about 200 of the letters signed as of Monday will be sent to public officials, including Gov. Pataki and state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco. Another rally to raise money for Reynolds' legal costs will be held between 1 and 11 p.m. Saturday in St. Stephen's Club, 1117 N. Union St.