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Oklahoma City Jury Convicts Former Police Officer On Sexual Assault Charges

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Oklahoma City, victims today said they were relieved after a jury last night convicted a former police officer of sexually abusing them while on the job. Daniel Holtzclaw's victims were all African-American, and most were poor. As Jacob McCleland of member station KGOU reports, Holtzclaw now faces life in prison.

JACOB MCCLELAND, BYLINE: Last June, Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw pulled over Janie Liggins on the city's east side. He put her in the back seat of his patrol car, where he sexually assaulted her.

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JANIE LIGGINS: I was out there alone and helpless. I didn't know what to do. And in my mind, all I could think that he was going to shoot me. He was going to kill me.

MCCLELAND: Speaking at a press conference today, Liggins told her story. The grandmother says she pleaded with Holtzclaw to stop.

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LIGGINS: The only thing I could see was my life flash before my eyes and the gun in his holster on his right side. And as I tried to look up at his name, I was afraid to because I said, if I know his name, I know he's going to kill me.

MCCLELAND: When he was a police officer, prosecutors say Holtzsclaw preyed on black women in Oklahoma City's east side, women with histories of drug arrests or outstanding warrants. He selected women that he thought would never report the crime and promised to drop drug charges in exchange for sexual favors. Their ages range from 17 into their 50s. Janie Liggins was different. She didn't have a record, and afterwards, she went straight to the police. That investigation led 13 women to bring allegations against Holtzclaw.

GRACE FRANKLIN: The brazenness of him to just rape and pillage on my side of town was a problem.

MCCLELAND: That's Grace Franklin. She founded Oklahoma City Artists For Justice, a group that led rallies and vigils in support of Holtzclaw's victims.

FRANKLIN: And we wanted to make sure that it was known that you have to pay a price for picking out the most vulnerable women and attacking them.

MCCLELAND: Last month, the Associated Press reported that nearly 1,000 police officers across the U.S. lost their badges during a six-year period for rape, sexual assault, sodomy and other sex crimes. And that number is probably low because it only includes those who lost their license to work.

FRANKLIN: We know that he's not the only officer running around raping people. Do we think that there's another serial rapist in the Oklahoma City Police Department? Probably not. We hope not. We pray that there's not. But there is a problem when you have people in positions of power who prey upon women.

MCCLELAND: At today's press conference, black leaders like Benjamin Crump from the National Bar Association called it the biggest rape case that nobody heard about and lamented the lack of media coverage. After an all-white jury deliberated for four days, some worried Holtzclaw would be acquitted. In a Facebook post, the Oklahoma City Police Department said it was pleased with the guilty verdicts. In Police Chief Bill Citty's termination letter to Holtzclaw last year, he called the officer's offenses against women the greatest abuse of police authority that he had seen his 37 years at the agency. For NPR News, I'm Jacob McCleland in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.