OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – An Oklahoma 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.
Prosecutors alleged Holtzclaw, 32, targeted black women and girls while on duty. He was convicted in 2015 on 18 of 36 charges of sexual assault that occurred in 2013 and 2014.
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.”
Holtzclaw attorney James Lockard and 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.”
Brian Bates, an investigator for Holtzclaw’s original defense team, said he does not expect this to be the end of the case.
“Many, many people have been down this exact same road. They’ve been wrongly convicted and had their appeal upheld and eventually were exonerated. This will happen to Daniel eventually,” Bates said.
Bates said he expected Holtzclaw’s family to make a statement later Thursday.
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.