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Oklahoma court upholds sentence for ex-cop convicted of rape

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A court on Thursday upheld the rape and sexual assault convictions and 263-year prison sentence of a former Oklahoma City police officer whose case has been watched closely by the Black Lives Matter movement and some conservatives.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously rejected appeals by Daniel Holtzclaw that included a lack of evidence, excessive sentence, prosecutorial misconduct, a "circus atmosphere" during his trial and a failure by the defense attorney to present an expert to offer an alternative explanation to how DNA of one victim wound up on Holtzclaw's pants.

Holtzclaw's family said in a statement that it is devastated by the ruling, but not surprised. Holtzclaw's father, Eric Holtzclaw, said the family plans to file a new round of appeals in federal court, a process family members said could take more than a decade.

"We will fight for Daniel until he is free," his sister, Jenny Holtzclaw, told reporters. She said her brother was convicted because of "biased claims" by prosecutors and fabricated accusations by "unreliable accusers."

"He deserves freedom. He is innocent of all charges that were brought against him," Jenny Holtzclaw said. Prosecutors alleged Holtzclaw, 32, targeted black women and girls while on duty. He was convicted in 2015 on 18 charges involving seven women and one girl that occurred in 2013 and 2014. He was acquitted on similar charges involving five other women.

The DNA of one of the accusers was found on Holtzclaw's pants, but his appeals attorneys argued that could have gotten there through "secondary transfer" when he searched the 17-year-old's purse. Holtzclaw argued that because his DNA was not found on his own pants, the pants were not properly tested and that the presence of his DNA mixed with that of the girl would support his claim of a secondary transfer.

But the court found that Holtzclaw failed to show how such evidence would support any theory of how the girl's DNA got onto his pants. Questions about DNA evidence were kept under seal by the court for 17 months because of personnel records that are confidential under Oklahoma law.

"This case involved a sexual predator who happened to be employed, most unfortunately, as an Oklahoma City police officer," Presiding Judge David B. Lewis wrote in a specially concurring opinion to the 5-0 ruling.

"He used his position of authority to intimidate and prey on vulnerable victims," Lewis wrote. "His arguments attacking the convictions are ... unavailing." In a statement, Jenny Holtzclaw took particular issue with Lewis' comments.

"We vehemently disagree with the vicious and false assertion in Judge David Lewis's concurrence that Daniel was a 'sexual predator' who abused his authority. It was detectives and prosecutors who abused their authority to manufacture false allegations against Daniel," she said.

Eric Holtzclaw became emotional while describing the impact the case has had on his son and other family members. "We know he's innocent, that's the big thing. He is 100% adamant about it. Our family is...it's tough," he said, fighting back tears. "We're devastated, it's no doubt about it."

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, whose office prosecuted the case, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Alex Gerszewski, spokesman for state Attorney General Mike Hunter, whose office handled the appeal, declined comment, noting that the case is ongoing because Holtzclaw could appeal Thursday's decision.

The executive director of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City, the Rev. T Sheri Dickerson, said Holtzclaw was convicted because he is guilty. "I celebrated in the fact that justice continues to be served," Dickerson said. "The wheels of justice turned correctly."

A 2015 Associated Press investigation highlighting the case found about 1,000 officers in the U.S. lost their licenses for sexual misconduct over a six-year period — considered an undercount because some states don't have a method for banning problem officers.

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