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Holtzclaw Sentencing Difficult For Victims, But Offers Some Closure

Daniel Holtzclaw’s victims and their supporters emerged from the courtroom Thursday, declaring  justice had been served. Moments earlier, officers had led a silent Holtzclaw, shackled and wearing prison orange, to serve the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors say Holtzclaw searched for black women in the poor Oklahoma City neighborhood he patrolled while in uniform - women with arrest records or drug problems, women he likely believed wouldn’t report the assaults. He used his power to coerce them into sexual acts. That all changed after he assaulted Jannie Ligons - a grandmother who was driving home.

She says it was hard to see him in the courtroom.

“Actually when I saw him, my heart dropped. I thought I was going to be a little braver when I saw him, but I was not,” Ligons said. “I was just … I don’t know. I just didn’t feel too good looking at him so I turned my head. It was not a good feeling.”

She was the first victim to report Holtzclaw to the police - a complaint that led to 12 more women coming forward.

Holtzclaw’s defense attorney tried to discredit the women who testified, citing criminal records or drug use. Victim Sharday Hill says it’s no surprise the women didn’t report the assaults sooner.

“How do we call the police on the police? We didn’t know the first thing to do or where to start besides telling our loved ones who knew us personally and knew that we wouldn’t make up such a thing,” Hill said.

Last month, an all-white jury convicted Holtzclaw on 18 charges related to sexual assault, including four rape charges. He was acquitted on 18 others. The jury recommended 263 years - Oklahoma County judge Timothy Henderson agreed.

Grace Franklin of the activist group Oklahoma City Artists for Justice says it took courage from women like LIgons and Hill to go public.

“Black women and black girls are preyed upon when they live in certain neighborhoods, when they don’t pose that squeaky clean image that makes them untouchable,” Franklin said. “Black women are not un-rapeable. We are attacked in our communities, in our homes, by police officers.”

Franklin hopes the sentence will inspire other women who’ve suffered sexual assault at the hands of police to come forward, and get justice.

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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