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In Oklahoma, Ex-Police Officer To Spend Rest Of His Life In Prison

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We have more on the fate of a former police officer in Oklahoma City convicted of sexually assaulting women. He is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Yesterday, a judge sentenced Daniel Holtzclaw to 263 years in prison. Jacob McClelland of member station KGOU reports that, while on the job, Holtzclaw preyed on African-American women in a poor Oklahoma City neighborhood.

JACOB MCCLELAND: Daniel Holtzclaw's victims and their supporters emerged from the courtroom 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 warrants 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.

JANNIE LIGONS: 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.

MCCLELAND: Ligons 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 their criminal records or drug use. Victim Sade Hill says it's no surprise the women didn't report the assaults sooner.

SADE HILL: We thought the police are 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.

MCCLELAND: Last month, an all-white jury convicted Holtzclaw, who is of white and Asian descent, on 18 charges related to sexual assault. He was acquitted on 18 others. Grace Franklin of the activist group Oklahoma City Artists for Justice says it took courage from the women to go public.

GRACE FRANKLIN: 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.

MCCLELAND: Franklin hopes the 263-year sentence will inspire other women to come forward and get justice. For NPR News, I'm Jacob McClelland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.