Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma City police officer convicted on rape and other charges after he preyed on African-American women over six months, was sentenced to 263 years in prison on Thursday.
The officer was convicted on 18 of 36 counts, including four counts of first-degree rape and four counts of forced oral sodomy, on his 29th birthday last month. He rocked back and forth in his chair, sobbing, as the judge read the verdict, which arrived after 40 hours of jury deliberation.
Prosecutors said Holtzclaw selected victims in one of Oklahoma City’s poorest neighborhoods based on their criminal histories, assuming their drug or prostitution records would undermine any claims they might make against him.
Then, he would subject them to assaults that escalated from groping to oral sodomy and rape, according to the testimony of 13 victims. Holtzclaw, whose father is a police lieutenant on another force, waived his right to testify.
Two of those women shared their stories with CNN on Wednesday, recounting horrific memories of being forced to perform sexual acts by a serial rapist with a badge who was supposed to be protecting and serving.
Jury wants 263 years
Because the victims are black, race has been regularly invoked in the case. His trial began in November and was criticized by activists after an all-white jury was chosen. Protesters repeatedly gathered outside.
Holtzclaw, whose father is white and mother is Japanese, is identified as “Asian or Pacific Islander” by court records.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, has criticized the media, asking, “Where is the national outcry for their justice?” Meanwhile, Oklahoma City NAACP President Garland Pruitt has said he will be watching the sentencing to ensure justice is served because “the system has a reputation of not being fair.”
The jury has recommended Holtzclaw serve 263 years in prison for his crimes. He was under suicide watch in the Oklahoma City jail after the verdict.
“We’re going to ask the judge to make sure that this defendant never sees the light of day,” District Attorney David Prater said. “And we’re going to ask him to run consecutive, every count.”
Holtzclaw’s attorneys declared his innocence, and they weren’t the only ones, despite the verdict. His sister also runs a blog dedicated to telling her brother’s “untold story.”
At least four of the victims were expected to testify ahead of Holtzclaw’s sentencing. One of those victims, Jannie Ligons, grandmother of 12, told her story during a CNN interview this week.
She recalled driving down Lincoln Street when Holtzclaw pulled her over and told her she was swerving, “which was untrue,” she said. He told her to get out of the car.
“He put a flashlight on my chest. He told me to pull my pants down to my knees. I did that but real quick and pulled them back up again. He pulled out his flashlight and shined it on my privates. I said. ‘Sir, you not supposed to do this.’ He said, ‘Get back into my vehicle.’ I did what he said. I began to get very, very scared,” Ligons said.
She remembers him telling her, “Damn, you got a big ass.”
“I thought he was going to kill me because I had seen his face and could tell on him and he was an officer and had to know he wasn’t supposed to do this,” she said.
That’s when Holtzclaw ordered her to perform oral sex, she said. Her mind racing and tears gushing from her then-57-year-old eyes, she was both disgusted and terrified.
“I tried to perform oral sex,” she said. “And trying to talk, I kept saying, ‘Sir, please don’t make me do this.’ I said, ‘Are you gonna shoot me?’ He said, ‘I promise I am not. ‘ I didn’t believe him. I kept seeing his gun while he was making me do this right there on the street. I was sitting in the passenger side of the car and he was standing there. It was so horrifying. It was unreal. I cried and cried,” Ligons said.
Finally, he let her go, and “I decided right then If he didn’t kill me I was going to tell on him,” she said.
Rape in a hospital bed
She picked up her daughter and went to the police station. Investigators interviewed her and sent her to the hospital. She soon learned she was the last in a string of sexual assaults and rapes committed by Holtzclaw.
“The detective I talked to in the hospital came in and she believed me. While she was writing the report she said, ‘I got a good idea who it was,’ ” Ligons said. “I was relieved at first, but then I wondered why he was still on the street if they knew who it was.”
Ligons told reporters after the verdict was announced last month that she had to enter therapy and later “had a stroke behind this.”
Another victim, 24-year-old Shandegreon “Sade” Hill, told CNN she was intoxicated the night Holtzclaw arrested her.
He promised to get her prior charges dropped, but while she was handcuffed to the hospital bed trying to detox, he raped her, she said.
“He started to touch me. He touched my breast. From there, I just didn’t know what to think. I am in his custody because whatever he tells me in my mind I just did it. As far as I know I could wind up dead in the hospital saying I was overdosed,” Hill said.
“He violated me. And made me give him oral. He stuck his hands into my privates. He done everything against my will, ” she told CNN, her voice shaking and angry.
Holtzclaw continued to pursue her, even following her to her home and stalking her on social media, she said.
These are just two of the stories from the 13 victims, one of whom was 17 at the time and testified she was raped on her mother’s front porch.
Grandmother brought him down
Ligons’ report would be the one that finally yielded Holtzclaw’s arrest. After she went to police and media outlets, investigators found another dozen victims. She now has a civil lawsuit pending against the former officer and the city, filed on behalf of several victims. Hill has filed a state civil lawsuit against Holtzclaw and Oklahoma City.
Crump has called Ligons “a true hero — not just for black women but all women.”
“The statistics on rape victims reporting the crimes against them are low to being with. This grandmother had the strength to come forward not just against her assailant but against a police officer. That is a frightening thing to do,” he said.
Holtzclaw was a former linebacker on the Eastern Michigan University football team and graduated with a degree in criminal justice.
Prosecutors say his ruthless scheme began during a June 2014 traffic stop. He was fired from the force in January 2015 after an internal investigation.
Hill told CNN she hopes a judge puts Holtzclaw away for a long time.
“My thing is he needs to be put away, to never do anything like this again,” Hill said.