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Former Oklahoma City Police Officer Found Guilty Of Multiple Rapes

Fired police officer Daniel Holtzclaw cries as guilty verdicts are read in an Oklahoma City court Thursday. Holtzclaw could face life in prison when he's sentenced for rape and other charges next month.
Sue Ogrocki
Fired police officer Daniel Holtzclaw cries as guilty verdicts are read in an Oklahoma City court Thursday. Holtzclaw could face life in prison when he's sentenced for rape and other charges next month.

Months after he was fired from the Oklahoma City police force, Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of four counts of first-degree rape and numerous other sexual offenses against eight victims.

The 12-member jury in the case — eight men and four women — had deliberated since Monday. They found the former officer guilty of half of the 36 counts he faced.

Holtzclaw, 29, was charged with sexually assaulting 13 women in a case in which race seemed to play a role. Holtzclaw is described in official documents as "Asian or Pacific Islander," according to News OK; all of the victims in the case are black.

As the judge read the guilty findings in court late Thursday, Holtzclaw hung his head and could be heard crying. Holtzclaw faces the chance of spending the rest of his life in prison; he'll be sentenced next month.

From member station KGOU:

"Daniel Holtzclaw trembled and sobbed as judge Timothy Henderson read through the 36 charges brought against him. Count 1, sexual battery. Guilty. Recommended punishment: Eight years. Count 2, procuring lewd exhibition, not guilty.

"It went like this for the three-dozen charges, while Holtzclaw, the fired police officer, rocked and cried, occasionally putting his head on the table.

"In the end, Holtzclaw was found guilty on four of six first-degree rape charges brought against him, one charge of second-degree rape with instrumentation, four counts of forcible oral sodomy, six counts of sexual battery and three procuring lewd exhibition charges. The jury recommended 263 years of prison time for the 29-year-old former college football player."

Holtzclaw, a native of Enid, Okla., played linebacker at Eastern Michigan University and was invited to rookie camp by the Detroit Lions in 2009. He has denied the charges against him and is expected to file an appeal.

In another racial component of the case, an all-white jury was selected to hear the trial, a development that set off alarm bells in Oklahoma County's black community and beyond.

After the verdict was read, District Attorney David Prater — a former police officer — said at the Oklahoma County Courthouse, "To the African-American community, I'll say this ... I appreciate you trusting us and standing down and making sure nothing foolish happened during the investigation of this case and during the trying of this case."

Prater said he'll be asking the judge "to make sure that this defendant never sees the light of day," by seeking to have his punishment run consecutively.

Holtzclaw is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 21, according to local TV news KOKH.

The Oklahoma City Police Department released a statement after the verdict, saying:

"The Oklahoma City Police Department is pleased with the jury's decision regarding the Daniel Holtzclaw trial. It was a long and difficult trial and deliberation process for all involved. It is obvious the jury took their responsibilities very seriously and considered every piece of evidence presented to them.

"We are proud of our detectives and prosecutors for a job well done.

"To the jury, we thank you for your service.

"We are satisfied with the jury's decision and firmly believe justice was served."

The woman who initiated the case by accusing Holtzclaw of forcing her to perform a sex act during a traffic stop last June was present for the verdict Thursday, News OK reports: "The woman, a grandmother, hugged others beside her in the courtroom and cried with her supporters."

As KGOU reports, it was that woman's decision to act that broke the case open for investigators: "Unlike most of the other women he assaulted, she immediately reported the crime to police. Detectives connected her assault to a previously unsolved report, then discovered Holtzclaw's pattern of sexual abuse. He was fired."

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: 'You Were Never Alone,' Advocate Tells Victim

Victims in the case held a news conference outside the courthouse around midday Friday, alongside their families and supporters. The group's news conference also included attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing five of the victims in the case.

Tezlyn Figaro, who is credited with reaching out to Crump and pushing for the case to get more attention, said, "I am ashamed at the lack of coverage from Oklahoma City media as well as the national, with not covering this case as it should have been from Day One."

Figaro, who works in public relations, says her mother was the news director assistant at Oklahoma City's Channel 4 for 15 years. She described being pulled over "numerous times" for no reason in the city.

"You were never alone," Figaro told one of the victims in the case, who then gave her a hug. "Because I've been riding with you since Day One. You didn't know me, and I didn't know you, but I've been fighting for these women for the last year."

Update at 12:40 p.m. ET: Janie Liggins Speaks

"I was violated in June by a police officer," says Janie Liggins, recalling that she had been pulled over for no reason. Identified by her attorney Crump on Friday as the woman who began the proceedings against Holtzclaw, Liggins recalled thinking after Holtzclaw pulled her over, "He was going to kill me," and being afraid to look at the officer's badge to learn his name.

"I was so afraid," she said, before adding that because she survived the ordeal, she wanted to come forward.

"He just picked the wrong lady to stop that night," she said.

Discussing her experience, victim Sade Hill said she too had been pulled over by Holtzclaw — and that when it happened, she had no idea what would happen next.

She described being taken to a hospital, where she was undressed and handcuffed to a bed.

That's where, she said, "he just started to manipulate me."

"I just couldn't even believe it. I was speechless, I was scared," Hill said Friday, as her parents stood with her and offered their support.

Crump added that the case shows that Holtzclaw had selected disadvantaged women to prey on, counting on their unwillingness to report a crime to the police. And he said that such crimes are also happening beyond Oklahoma City.

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Update at 12:25 p.m. ET: Prayer, And A Discussion

The event featuring the victims in the case began with a prayer that both thanked the Lord for the verdict and also prayed for Holtzclaw.

"We are pleased with the 18 guilty counts we got," activist Grace Franklin of OKC Artists for Justice said after the prayer. "We are not pleased with the 18 that we didn't. There were five women who did not receive justice. That is a problem."

She added that for black women in America, "there is a tendency not to value them" in the same way as women of other races.

Crump introduced "the courageous hero" in the case, naming Janie Liggins (we're unsure of the spelling for now) as the woman who stepped forward to accuse Holtzclaw.

Crump said he had been brought into the case after receiving multiple calls from people who were concerned that the events in Oklahoma City were not going to result in a criminal conviction.

After one of the victims called him and grew emotional on the phone, Crump said, "It became personal."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.