OUR AID RECIPIENTS
“I am completely innocent of all these charges against me. I went to trial and I was wrongfully convicted on 18 charges. I put my life on the line each day I went to work and believed in the judicial system. That judicial system failed me.”
Daniel Holtzclaw, a Japanese-American police officer in Oklahoma City who was wrongfully convicted in 2015, wrote these words from prison where he is now fighting to regain his freedom while in his 5th year of a 263-year sentence.
A growing team of advocates from across the political spectrum, including the esteemed attorneys Kathleen T. Zellner & Associates, has been involved in the fight to free Daniel. Daniel is currently represented by Oklahoma attorney James L. Hankins, who has continued Ms. Zellner’s work to free Daniel.
UNCUFF THE INNOCENT is proud to be contributing funds for Daniel's legal defense.
Daniel Holtzclaw is an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting eight out of thirteen African-American complainants based on flawed forensic science, a biased and incompetent investigation, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
During the investigation, the presumption of guilt, tunnel vision, and false forensic conclusions led the prosecution to reverse-engineer a case against Daniel following a single allegation of oral sodomy lacking forensic evidence. When an unknown female DNA profile was found on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants, police believed Daniel was guilty, ignoring the reality of non-intimate DNA transfer. Hunting for the unknown female, investigators used Daniel's own police records to solicit allegations specifically from at-risk African-American women with criminal histories whom Daniel had stopped.
During the trial, the State’s DNA analyst then made forensic science errors that Daniel's trial attorney failed to challenge, culminating in Daniel's wrongful conviction on 18 out of 36 counts after the prosecutor misrepresented a minute quantity of DNA on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants as deriving from vaginal fluid although no body fluids were detected and non-intimate DNA transfer explained the evidence. Juror comments after the trial show jurors were misled into believing the DNA had transferred in vaginal fluid, impacting multiple verdicts.
Flawed forensic science is an integral cause of Daniel Holtzclaw's wrongful conviction. When the police department's forensic analyst discovered an unknown female DNA profile on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants after the initial allegation of oral sodomy, investigators ignored that the DNA evidence was best explained by innocent indirect transfer of skin cell DNA via Daniel's hands after he pat-searched individuals and looked through possessions for drugs and weapons during the course of his police duties.
The DNA found on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants was a low level mixture from at least several individuals, including DNA from at least one unknown male, and no evidence of body fluid was observed. The male DNA proved that an individual's DNA could transfer to the fly of Daniel's uniform pants without any involvement of that person's vaginal fluid, since men don't make vaginal fluid.
Research published in 2010 also demonstrated that a woman's non-intimate skin cell DNA can transfer from her face and hands via a man's hands to his underpants and even genitals. See Jones and Scott, The transfer of DNA through non-intimate social contact, in Conference Report by J. Hulme, Science and Justice, 50: 100-109 (2010).
Despite the innocent explanation for the female DNA profile found on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants, investigators believed the DNA meant he was guilty of sexual assault.
Daniel's police department began a massive and biased hunt for the unknown female by using Daniel's own police records to contact and solicit allegations specifically from at-risk African-American women with criminal histories and warrants whom he had stopped while on patrol during the previous 6 months.
Using false statements (“we received a tip that you may have been sexually assaulted by an OCPD police officer") and leading interview techniques (encouraging interviewees to help catch the officer, a “really bad guy,” because police had "a long list of victims"), the detectives procured sexual assault allegations from 9 women and also a 17-year-old teenager, whose DNA was found to match the unknown female profile.
The teenager was approached by detectives more than 3 months after an older woman alleged she was orally sodomized on June 18, 2014, triggering the investigation. During that intervening time, Daniel’s face and story were broadcast extensively on the Oklahoma news. The teen told detectives that Daniel raped her through the unzipped fly of his buckled pants on the evening of June 17, 2014, after he dropped her off at her mother’s home. Yet her mother reported to police that her daughter simply told her that night that she had a met a "hot cop."
Other important exculpatory details were dismissed by the prosecution. For example, at least two of the women from whom detectives solicited allegations knew each other. One of them, whose allegations led to an acquittal, was the paid housekeeper of the other, and they smoked crack cocaine together.
Adding together the 10 complainants procured by police, the woman whose allegation of oral sodomy sparked the investigation, and two other women who came forward on their own (and whose allegations led to acquittals), a total of 13 complainants went to trial. In addition, 8 individuals made false allegations that never went to trial because they were determined to be false and non-credible immediately.
No direct evidence supported the allegations of sexual assault that led to charges against Daniel. The complainants' claims also contained numerous contradictions, including exculpatory evidence that the prosecution ignored during the investigation.
Three examples of allegations that led to convictions show how investigators ignored contradictions and exculpatory evidence.
First, the woman who made the initial oral sodomy allegation after a June 18, 2014, traffic stop gave a suspect description differing wildly from Daniel’s appearance. She said the officer was 35-45 years old, between 5'7" and 5'9" tall, with unsmooth skin and blond hair parted on the right side. Daniel was 27 years old, 6' 1" tall and even taller when wearing his police boots, and has smooth skin and black hair without a part. The 57-year-old woman admitted to the detectives that she had smoked marijuana and taken nighttime PM medication before driving, which she had not told Daniel. But she denied swerving, which was the reason Daniel explained he did the traffic stop after having just gone off duty.
Daniel recalled the woman had no driver’s license, only an I.D. card. Using his officer’s discretion, he had told her to get that taken care of rather than take her to jail. Detectives later learned the woman's driver’s license had been suspended for 30 years. During the trial, however, she denied knowing her driver’s license was suspended at the time of the traffic stop. But her fiancé of 20 years, whose car she was driving, testified that he knew her driver’s license was suspended and the only reason he had let her drive that evening was because he was tired.
No forensic evidence corroborated the woman’s allegations. The SANE exam that the woman obtained a couple hours after the alleged sexual assault came back negative. No DNA, sperm, or seminal fluid from Daniel was found in or around her mouth.
No DNA match to the woman was found on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants even though she alleged he had orally sodomized her through the unzipped fly of the buckled pants, which were taken as evidence on the day of the alleged assault.
No fingerprints or DNA from the woman or Daniel were found on the patrol car's hood or roof to corroborate her claims that she had placed her hands on the hood and Daniel had placed his hand on the roof.
No DNA from Daniel was found on the woman's phone, but the DNA from the woman and some unknown individual was, showing that DNA does indeed transfer from people to things they touch. No pubic hair or DNA from Daniel was found inside the patrol car.
The surveillance video of the traffic stop, which was too far away to display fine details, showed no wrongdoing, but it did show that Daniel searched the woman's car for drugs and alcohol, just like he said he had.
Another African-American woman, who alleged an officer raped her for “about five to ten minutes” through his unzipped, buckled uniform pants in a public park, described her assailant as a short, black officer approximately 5'9" tall (Daniel is 6'1") with skin darker than her own (Daniel’s skin is pale).
The woman could not identify Daniel in the courtroom during the preliminary hearing. Also, a review of Daniel’s patrol car AVL data showed that it could only have been motionless for less than 3 minutes and 50 seconds, some of which would be transit time because the patrol car was moving at time 1:14:28 a.m. and then was already in motion again at 1:18:17 a.m. Despite these inconsistencies, the prosecution continued to press charges against Daniel, leading to a conviction.
As a third example of the contradictions ignored by the prosecution, the teenager's mother, describing the evening when her 17-year-old runaway daughter was brought home by a police officer, told detectives that the teen said she had met a "hot cop." Later, while on the stand, the mother denied ever telling this to detectives, even when a recording of her voice was played back to her.
Despite all the accusations' contradictions and lack of evidence, the jury found Daniel guilty of some or all of the allegations made by 8 complainants, including the three mentioned above, after the forensic analyst made false statements and the prosecutor untruthfully told the jury it was a "fact" that DNA from the 17-year-old who accused Daniel of rape transferred in her vaginal fluids to the fly of Daniel's uniform pants.
Daniel's attorney failed to recognize and challenge the forensic analyst's and prosecutor's false statements about the DNA, allowing the jury to be misled about the most crucial evidence in the entire trial. Protesters outside the courtroom shouted, "Racist jury, racist cop" and, "Give him life."
Out of 36 counts in total, Daniel was convicted on 18, exactly half, ranging from sexual battery (6 counts), procuring lewd exhibition (3 counts), forcible oral sodomy (4 counts), rape in in the second degree (1 count), to rape in the first degree (4 counts). Daniel vehemently states that he is completely innocent of all the charges against him.
Daniel was acquitted of the remaining 18 counts resulting from 5 women's allegations, which had major flaws similar to the contradictions in the allegations that led to convictions.
One woman whose allegations led to a full acquittal, for example, claimed Daniel orally sodomized her in her hospital bed after she overdosed on PCP. But she later friended Daniel on Facebook and then was caught on video telling a detective, “Even if he didn’t like even rape nobody or nothing, he’s still gonna -- he’s been in contact with people that he’s arrested.” Her admission was not reported in the detective’s police report.
Another woman whose allegations led to an acquittal denied seven times that any police officer was inappropriate with her before changing her story and implicating a black police officer, before changing her story again and finally implicating Daniel. She said the officer motioned for her to pull her shirt and bra up to check for hidden drugs but did not tell her to do so, and she simply felt like she had to lift her shirt and bra to expose her breasts. In short, the allegation against Daniel did not even consist of a crime. Again, the detective’s report did not mention the woman's initial repeated denials.
Daniel Holtzclaw is appealing his wrongful conviction and fighting a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by many of the women who accused him.
Daniel filed his appeal's Brief of the Appellant and Application for Evidentiary Hearing on Sixth Amendment Claims (about the ineffective representation by his trial attorney) before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Daniel was represented in his criminal appeal by an appellate attorney appointed by the Court because Daniel and his parents used up their savings to pay for his trial defense attorney, leaving Daniel indigent.
After Daniel's appeal was denied by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in August 2019, Daniel appealed this unjust decision by filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 30, 2019. Unable to correct every injustice brought to its attention, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Daniel’s case in March 2020, but filing the Cert Petition had a strategic benefit: it has provided Daniel with seven extra months before his Federal Habeas Corpus Petition is due.
Daniel is now in the process of preparing an Oklahoma state Application for Post-Conviction Relief, which must be completed before March 2021.
His case has attracted the attention of forensic experts, philanthropists, attorneys, and journalists.
Six internationally renowned forensic experts, among them Dr. Peter Gill, concluded that the prosecution’s incorrect DNA analysis and arguments were so fundamentally flawed as to require a new trial for Daniel. The forensic experts released their conclusions about the flawed forensic science as a case report.
Jason Flom, a founding board member of the Innocence Project and a criminal justice reform activist who hosts the Wrongful Conviction podcast, has spoken out publicly in support of Daniel Holtzclaw’s innocence. Mr. Flom told Daniel’s sister Jenny Holtzclaw at a public screening of a Michelle Malkin Investigates' episode about wrongful convictions including Daniel’s, “You totally brought me around, so here I am and I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing and we’re going to get your brother out.” (Michelle Malkin, “Daniel Holtzclaw Update: Innocence Community in New York speaks out,” May 10, 2018.)
New York attorney Oscar Michelen, who has helped exonerate numerous innocent people, writes with concern about the injustices in Daniel’s case:
“I will tell you it has all the fingerprints of a wrongful conviction: overzealous prosecutors looking to get a high-profile conviction; investigating detectives coming to a conclusion before they even examine the evidence or even begin their investigation; those same detectives then looking for facts to fit their conclusion rather than developing facts to reach a conclusion; an accused protesting his innocence all the way through the process; ineffective lawyering; lots of negative pre-trial publicity tainting the jury pool; and shaky forensics.”
Journalist Michelle Malkin is working to expose the police investigators' and prosecution's errors and misconduct in Daniel’s case. Three documentary videos about Daniel Holtzclaw's case have been released by Michelle Malkin Investigates on Youtube to expose the injustice of his conviction:
Daniel's wrongful conviction forces the nation to confront the harm caused by faulty DNA analysis and by the assumption, arising from legitimate fears of racism and police misconduct, that a police officer must be guilty when he is accused by multiple African-American women.
The tragedy of Daniel Holtzclaw's case is that our society's noblest desires to end racism, sexism, and police brutality led to the conviction of an innocent man.
Learn more below about Daniel's case and the presumption of guilt that caused his wrongful conviction.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Daniel's friends and family have created a Petition requesting that Oklahoma officials free him because he is innocent.
You can help Daniel by signing and sharing his freedom petition.
UNCUFF THE INNOCENT is raising funds for the legal defense of Daniel Holtzclaw.
Your donation will contribute to the legal defense funds of Daniel and other innocent individuals who have been wrongfully accused or convicted.
Your donation will also help reduce the chance of wrongful convictions by enabling us to contribute body camera funds to police departments needing financial assistance to purchase and maintain body cameras for their officers. Thank you for helping UNCUFF THE INNOCENT!
LEARN MORE ABOUT
Daniel Holtzclaw's case is the focus of a two-part investigative series called "Daniel in the Den: The Truth about the Holtzclaw Case," by Michelle Malkin Investigates.
Two forensic experts discuss the investigative flaws, bias, and DNA analysis and testimony errors in Daniel Holtzclaw's case. The experts are two of six independent, internationally renowned scientists who released a public report on the scientific issues in the case. The forensic experts concluded that Daniel deserves a new trial because he was deprived of his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.
Daniel’s sister Jenny Holtzclaw is leading the social media campaign to raise awareness of Daniel’s wrongful conviction. You can visit Jenny Holtzclaw's public Facebook Page and the website she has created to free Daniel Holtzclaw:
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THE BIASED INVESTIGATION
“The start of this nightmare where I was wrongfully convicted has been beyond imaginable for myself and my family,” writes Daniel. “The presumption of guilt was out the roof.”
The area where Daniel worked was a dangerous and challenging one. Daniel writes, “As a police officer I gave an oath to protect and serve” and he did that to the fullest.
“I worked the north east side of Oklahoma City,” which “is considered one of the roughest places in the city,” Daniel explains. “This is the birth place of the ‘107 Hoover Crips, which is the biggest African-American gang in Oklahoma City. The area I patrolled was where it started. I did everything in my power to protect other officers and the citizens of Oklahoma City.”
AN ALLEGATION AFTER AN EARLY MORNING TRAFFIC STOP TRIGGERS
A PRESUMPTION OF GUILT
Daniel Holtzclaw’s life changed forever on June 18, 2014, after a 57-year-old African-American woman alleged that a blond police officer had orally sodomized her briefly through his unzipped, buckled uniform pants during a traffic stop at 2 a.m. that morning.
From the very start, detectives presumed the officer who made that stop -- who turned out to be Daniel -- was guilty.
The woman went to the hospital where a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) kit was completed several hours after the alleged assault. Here she was interviewed by a female Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) sex crimes detective.
The woman's description of the suspect did not match Daniel. The detective reported that the woman said the officer was a white male, 35-45 years old (Daniel was 27), and between 5'7" and 5'9" tall (he is 6' 1", and even taller with his police boots on). The woman said the officer had blond hair with a part on the right side closer to the middle than the side of his head (Daniel's hair is black, without a part). Also, the detective reported that the woman said the officer's skin was not smooth (Daniel's skin is smooth). The woman admitted to the detective that she had smoked marijuana and taken nighttime PM medication before driving.
After the sex crimes detective interviewed the woman at the hospital, the detective believed her even though her sexual assault allegation was not corroborated by forensic evidence and even before interviewing the officer who would acknowledge he had made that stop...Daniel Holtzclaw.
The lead detective has stated, "Before we started the interview [with Holtzclaw], I felt like that what [she] told me was the truth." (Daniel in the Den, Parts 1 and 2).
The female detective has also explained to the media that on the day of Daniel Holtzclaw's police interrogation, right after she met with the woman who made the oral sodomy allegation, the detective "knew there would be more."
Later that morning, detectives identified Daniel as a suspect by looking through the patrol car fleet's computer Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) records for June 18, 2014. The AVL showed that none of the patrol cars had been to the location of the alleged sexual assault. However, there was one patrol car that had its computer system off at 1:58 a.m., just before the officer went off duty at 2:00 a.m. That officer turned out to be Daniel Holtzclaw.
Much has been made of the fact that Daniel's patrol car computer, which also ran the AVL, was turned off before Daniel stopped the woman's car a short time later, as if this meant he had logged off the computer system to prevent his car from being tracked.
But, in fact, it was simply Daniel's habit to deactivate the patrol car computer right after going off duty, as Daniel himself would say during his interrogation. The lead sex crimes detective was forced to admit at trial that "it appears from looking at the documents that it was not uncommon at all for Officer Holtzclaw to log in and out at the station."
Rather than being nefarious, logging off the patrol car computer system before reaching home was so common among police officers going off duty that Oklahoma City sent an e-mail directive in February 2014 reminding officers to keep their patrol car computers on, door-to-door, when leaving and returning home.
Another misrepresentation of Daniel's case is the claim that he turned his patrol car computer/AVL off before stopping all the other women who would eventually go to trial with allegations against him.
In reality, Daniel's patrol car computer/AVL system was on for all the Holtzclaw case stops, which occurred while he was on duty, except for one. The one exception was the early morning traffic stop on June 18, 2014, of a car that Daniel said he saw swerving only after he logged off his computer and went off duty at 2 a.m.
After the female detective interviewed the 57-year-old woman at the hospital several hours after the traffic stop, police then held a staff meeting about the case.
When the meeting was over a lieutenant expressed the concern to the female sex crimes detective that the allegation could result in an explosive community reaction if not handled properly, according to The Oklahoman newspaper’s series “Hunting Holtzclaw” about Daniel’s conviction seen from the detectives’ perspective. The lieutenant pulled the lead detective aside and “tells her the eyes of the department are on her. In a department already struggling with relations in the minority community they know how explosive something like this could be."
A PREVIOUS ALLEGATION AGAINST AN UNKNOWN OFFICER IS PINNED ON DANIEL ALTHOUGH HE DIDN’T MATCH THE SUSPECT
The June 18th sexual assault allegation made detectives suspect that Daniel was also guilty of a previous month’s oral sodomy allegation against an unknown, muscular police officer by a black woman with paranoid schizophrenia and a long criminal history who made the allegation while high on crack cocaine.
That earlier woman remembered a date, location, police car description, and a dark-skinned assailant that did not match Daniel or his patrol car locations. The June 18, 2014, allegation inspired detectives to investigate the earlier allegation more thoroughly. Eventually, detectives would find that this troubled woman could not positively identify her assailant in a line-up, the sole line-up used in the Holtzclaw case. Daniel would ultimately be acquitted of her allegations that detectives pinned on him.
The detectives’ treatment of this at-risk, drug-addicted African-American woman who made an earlier allegation against an unknown officer is especially troubling and unethical. The male detective pressured the woman to proceed with her allegations, even when she told him she “just wanted to be left alone. Please, please, I just want to leave it alone. […] I don’t want to be a part of nothing no more. […] Don’t do this to me, please. God help me Jesus. Jesus help me.”
Only after the distressed woman ended up in jail did she finally change her story to match a different location that the detective had previously revealed to her…and which now matched the known location of Daniel’s patrol car. During the trial, it was revealed that Daniel’s patrol car was going faster than 25 mph at the location where the woman alleged he had dropped her off, so that even the male detective admitted that, "Yes," she was lying about that.
DANIEL'S INTERROGATION CEMENTS THE DETECTIVES' BELIEF IN HIS GUILT
EVEN THOUGH DANIEL COOPERATES FULLY
Despite the inconsistencies in the two oral sodomy allegations from June 18th and the previous month, at the start of the investigation detectives suspected Daniel was guilty of both.
Already believing they had caught their criminal, the female sex crimes detective and her male colleague interviewed Daniel for two hours on the afternoon of June 18, 2014.
Daniel denied both women’s allegations during his interrogation, with which he cooperated fully.
Daniel requested no lawyer for the interview. He answered every question posed. He willingly provided a DNA sample from his cheek. He placed his uniform pants and belt in a brown paper evidence bag for forensic testing.
It should be noted that the male detective inserted his bare hand in the evidence bag before the uniform pants and belt were placed inside it. This action violated evidence collection procedures because it could have transferred the detective’s skin cell DNA, and any other DNA from other people on his hand, to the bag's interior and then to the evidence later placed in the bag. The detective should also have required that the belt be placed in a separate evidence bag to prevent DNA transfer between evidence items.
The male detective’s sloppy collection of Daniel's uniform pants and belt revealed he was not aware of the reality of innocent skin cell DNA transfer. It was a harbinger of worse forensic science errors to come in the case.
Even when the two detectives lied to Daniel during the interview, claiming pubic hairs had been found in the back of the patrol car, Daniel continued to proclaim his innocence, saying those pubic hairs weren't his.
The male detective told Daniel that they had surveillance videos of the stop, and asked if Daniel wanted to see them. Daniel said yes. When the male detective tried to extract a confession by lying, "We can watch a whole lot of actions being performed while you were there," and saying, "It's not looking good so far," Daniel continued to explain that he was innocent and nothing sexual had occurred.
Daniel asked detectives to complete the DNA tests quickly because he wanted to clear his name. “Take the test. I want to clear my name. I want to get it cleared up,” Daniel said. “I want you to take the exam and get, get this over with […]. Go, go at it – not my DNA. […] I want to do it today. I want everything. I want to get it done.” Daniel also was willing to take a polygraph test.
During the interrogation, Daniel recalled that when he asked the woman during the June 18th traffic stop, "Do you have a valid insurance or valid license?" she replied that she didn't have any and she gave him an I.D. card. Daniel said that after searching her car (which can be seen in the surveillance video) and finding nothing illegal, and because in his experience she was not over the legal alcohol limit, Daniel told her to go to the Department of Public Safety to get a valid driver's license and get that taken care of.
Detectives later confirmed that the 57-year-old woman's driver's license had been suspended for more than 30 years. During the trial, she would deny knowing, at the time of the traffic stop, that her driver's license had been suspended. Yet her claim that she did not know her driver's licenses was suspended was contradicted by her fiancé of 20 years, who testified that he was aware her license had been suspended. The woman's fiancé also testified that normally she didn't drive and he drove her, but for that particular night (June 17-18, 2014) he let her drive his car because he was kind of tired.
After interviewing Daniel Holtzclaw, despite his full cooperation, detectives still presumed he was guilty and they labeled him as a “narcissist,” “sociopath,” and “evil,” as they have explained publicly. (See "Daniel in the Den: The Truth about the Holtzclaw Case," Parts 1 and 2, by Michelle Malkin Investigates.)
Similarly, The Oklahoman newspaper reported in its series, “Hunting Holtzclaw,” that halfway through the interrogation the lead detective already thought, “He’s like interviewing a robot” and the male detective told her, “He’s a sociopath.”
The tunnel vision of the detectives was now thoroughly focused on Daniel. Daniel was placed on administrative leave as the investigation steamrolled ahead. From the investigators' perspective, they had their guilty party. Now all they had to do was develop the case to convict him.
FORENSIC EVIDENCE TESTING SUPPORTS DANIEL'S INNOCENCE
Around a week after the June 18, 2014 allegation, the SANE kit and DNA test results came back. They were negative, meaning the forensic evidence did not support the woman's allegations about the early morning traffic stop.
Daniel’s DNA was not found in or around the 57-year-old woman's mouth. The forensic analyst would later expose her bias against Daniel during the trial when she testified that "unfortunately in this case" Daniel's DNA was not found in the SANE exam.
No DNA or fingerprints matching the woman or Daniel were found on top of the patrol car, meaning there was no corroboration of her allegation that at one point during the traffic stop her hands were on top of the hood and Daniel's hand was on the roof.
No DNA match to the woman who made the June 18th allegation was found when the Oklahoma City Police Department’s forensic analyst swabbed the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants to test for DNA.
The fly of the uniform pants also lacked visible stains or deposits, not a single indication of saliva or vaginal fluid or any body fluid, when the forensic analyst used a bright light and magnifying glass to inspect the pants. The forensic analyst performed no tests for body fluids, not even by using an Alternate Light Source that can cause latent body fluid stains to fluoresce.
The fact that the analyst saw nothing suspicious on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants should have been recognized by investigators as evidence of innocence because eventually Daniel would be accused of sexually assaulting 3 people through the unzipped fly of those buckled pants less than 24 hours before the pants and belt were confiscated as evidence: a 17-year-old saying she was raped for around 10 minutes, a woman claiming she was raped for 20 - 30 minutes and orally sodomized, and then the woman alleging oral sodomy during the June 18, 2014, traffic stop.
DNA ON THE FLY OF DANIEL'S PANTS WAS MISPERCEIVED AS SIGNIFYING GUILT
While the forensic evidence did not corroborate the June 18, 2014, oral sodomy allegation, when the police department’s forensic analyst swabbed the fly of Daniel's uniform pants she discovered a low level of DNA including an unknown female’s full DNA profile, in a mixture of DNA from at least 3 people including at least one unknown male. The discovery of the unknown female's full DNA profile would cause the investigation against Daniel to snowball out of the control.
As in many wrongful convictions, the presumption of guilt was perpetuated by flawed forensic science.
In Daniel’s case, investigators jumped to the incorrect conclusion that the DNA meant Daniel had been in sexual contact with an additional, unknown female. Detectives believed there must be "another victim."
Investigators overlooked a non-nefarious explanation for the DNA found on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants lacking stains and deposits: skin cell DNA indirect transfer via Daniel's hands following pat searches and other non-intimate contact that police officers have with people they stop and their belongings. The forensic analyst, detectives, and eventually the prosecutors ignored that the evidence supported innocent touch DNA indirect transfer as the reasonable and even the best explanation.
The lead detective demonstrated her ignorance of innocent DNA transfer and her bias when she told the media that the DNA meant there must be more victims: "After [the first woman] was investigated, there was DNA on his pants that was female DNA that was unknown. It didn't match [her]. We knew he didn't just say I'm going to pull this lady over and sexually assault her. There had to be something that built up to it. There had to be other victims out there."
The presumption of guilt would result in a biased hunt through Daniel's police records to find the alleged victim who matched the unknown female DNA profile.
Daniel recalls his thoughts at the time when he learned that an unknown female's DNA profile was discovered on the fly of his uniform pants:
“I thought they, you know, they were setting me up, I thought someone was tampering with evidence… and I was like, are you serious? I didn’t do anything sexual in nature with any of these women, so where is this evidence coming from?”
The answer that should have been considered immediately by investigators was the non-sexual indirect transfer of skin cell DNA.
Not only did the fly of Daniel's uniform pants lack any visible signs of stains or deposits, but also the unknown female's DNA profile was part of a minute quantity of DNA from at least several individuals, including at least one unidentified male, exactly what you would expect to see after innocent transfer of other people's skin cell DNA, via Daniel's hands, from objects he touched during police searches to the fly of his pants during urination.
The teenager even told detectives and testified that when Daniel first stopped her, she was with a woman and man whom Daniel also questioned, putting the male in the back of the patrol car for questioning. The teenager said Daniel then checked her purse for drugs and later pat-searched her.
The presence of male DNA on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants proved that an individual’s DNA could transfer to the fly without the involvement of that individual’s vaginal fluid, since males don’t make vaginal fluid. The information that there was male DNA in the samples does not appear to have been conveyed to the detectives.
Incorrect DNA analysis by the State’s forensic analyst led the prosecution to believe that only sexual contact reasonably explained why a female DNA profile was found on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants.
The State's analyst incorrectly concluded that Daniel's DNA was not present on the fly of his pants. According to the State’s witness list description of the forensic analyst's planned testimony, she “will opine for [the teenager's] DNA to be transferred to the pants, it most likely was contained in some type of body fluid - including vaginal secretions or saliva,” and she “will express opinions that def.’s assertion that [the teen's] DNA was found inside his pants as a result of contact DNA transfer is not reasonable, and perhaps not even possible - in support of this conclusion and opinion, she will testify that def.’s own DNA was not even found on his pants."
In fact, the DNA data were inconclusive as to whether or not Daniel was a contributor because the low level of DNA and insufficient data meant it was possible that not all the alleles (variations of genetic regions) of the contributors were detected.
During the trial, the State's forensic analyst would also tell the jury untruthfully that the two DNA samples from inside the fly lacked male DNA. This testimony contradicted the lab's DNA quantification data that showed male DNA was present. The forensic analyst herself initialed the data page that revealed male DNA in the two samples from inside the fly of the uniform pants. Her testimony also contradicted the analyst's written report stating there was insufficient data for comparison purposes, meaning that the profile including male DNA was inconclusive as to who the contributors were. It is not known from whom that male DNA originated and so it is incorrect to rule out Daniel as a possible contributor.
Furthermore, even if Daniel's DNA were not detected on the fly of his uniform pants, he could still have touched the fabric and transferred other people's DNA. Scientific research available before the start of Daniel's trial proved that we can transfer another person's skin cell DNA that is on our hands without transferring our own DNA in detectable quantities to objects we touch.
A study by Cale et al. found that if you shake hands with a second individual and then touch a knife, you can transfer the non-handler's DNA but not your own DNA to the touched object. See Cale et al., Could Secondary DNA Transfer Falsely Place Someone at the Scene of a Crime, J. of Forensic Science, 61: 196-203 (2016), published online Sept. 1, 2015, before Daniel's trial started on Nov. 2, 2015.
Other scientific research available before Daniel's trial proved that non-intimate transfer of DNA from the teenager's purse to Daniel's hands and then to the fly of his uniform pants was a reasonable explanation.
A study from 2010 by Sarah Jones and Kirsty Scott discovered that a woman's non-intimate skin cell DNA can transfer secondarily from her face and hands via a man's hands to his underpants and even genitals. See Jones and Scott, The transfer of DNA through non-intimate social contact, in Conference Report by J. Hulme, Science and Justice, 50: 100-109 (2010).
A study published online on Oct. 27, 2015, by Janine Helmus and others, revealed that indirect tertiary transfer of a person's skin cell DNA can occur from a person's neck to a piece of cloth to a second individual's hands, and from that second individual's hands to another piece of cloth, resulting in a full DNA profile of the non-handler on the second cloth. See Helmus et al., DNA transfer – a neverending story: A study on scenarios involving a second person as carrier, Int J Legal Med, 130: 121-125 (2016) – published online Oct. 27, 2015.
The police department's forensic analyst made other errors, including testifying, incorrectly, that no presumptive tests for vaginal fluid exist. The analyst said this to explain the reason she did not test for vaginal fluids on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants. In reality, presumptive tests for vaginal fluid cells have existed for years and a positive result means that vaginal fluid cells may be present. (A positive result with a presumptive test for a body fluid tells you that a substance may have come from that body fluid, but more than one type of fluid can give a positive result.)
The prosecutor revealed his ignorance of science and indirect transfer of skin cell DNA when he talked to the press after the trial.
Even though Daniel's uniform pants were not tested for any body fluids, the prosecutor claimed falsely after the trial that "the skin cells were transferred through the body fluids of a 17-year-old girl after he raped her. That's what the evidence was. That's what the jury heard and certainly that's what they convicted him of. They [the defense] tried to explain DNA from a 17-year-old girl that ends up inside his pants at the areas where his privates are. Quite frankly, their explanation was not believable because you can't explain that" (Erielle Reshef, KOKO 5 News, "Prosecutors who helped convict Daniel Holtzclaw speak,” Feb. 5, 2016).
The prosecutor also demonstrated his lack of knowledge about indirect transfer of non-intimate DNA and his lack of awareness that his forensic analyst erred when she testified that Daniel's own DNA was not found on the pants.
The prosecutor told the media after the trial, "If what they are trying to get people to believe, which is not accurate, is that it could transfer from a purse, to hands, to pants, to inside of pants...uh, significantly, Daniel Holtzclaw's own DNA was not found on the inside of his uniform pants. I think that speaks probably louder than anything I can argue as to the ability of someone's skin cells from their hands to get transferred to a piece of fabric."
The most dangerous ignorance occurs when people, such as the prosecutor, are ostensibly unaware that they are ignorant. The prosecution's forensic science errors and presumption of guilt led investigators and prosecutors to reverse-engineer a case against Daniel, ignoring the evidence of his innocence.
DNA FROM AN UNKNOWN FEMALE TRIGGERS A BIASED HUNT TO FIND HER AS DETECTIVES TARGET AT-RISK AFRICAN AMERICANS
The incorrect assumption that an unknown female's full DNA profile on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants must mean Daniel had been in sexual contact with an unidentified female victim caused investigators to mount a massive and biased hunt through Daniel's police records to find her.
The lead detective testified that the reason she was still "looking for victims" two months after the first allegation against Mr. Holtzclaw was “because our serology lab notified us that they had female DNA on the inside flap of Officer Holtzclaw's uniform pants. And it didn't match [the 57-year-old woman] and it didn't match his girlfriend and so far it hadn't matched anybody that we had found. So I knew there was another female victim out there that we needed to find that DNA to."
The lead detective was incorrect. As has been explained, the presence of someone’s DNA on a man's pants--even a seemingly incriminating location such as the inside flap of the fly--does not mean that any criminal act was committed or even that sexual contact occurred.
Investigators used Daniel’s own police records to contact and solicit allegations specifically from over 40 at-risk African-American women with criminal histories and warrants whom Daniel had stopped.
Even though the 57-year-old woman did not have warrants or previous convictions, a lieutenant looked back through 6 months of Daniel’s police records and created a list of the African-American women “who had a drug history, prostitution history or a significant criminal history” whom he had stopped. The lieutenant then gave packets of the women’s information to the two sex crimes detectives to use to contact them.
Detectives untruthfully told many of these women that police had received a "tip" that they may have been sexually assaulted by a "bad" cop with many victims. The detectives' use of leading, biased questioning of potential complainants is documented in the trial transcript and is described in the Forensic Experts' Report on Daniel's case.
"These detectives, they kind of led them," Daniel says. "The investigation as far as approaching these women saying we have a tip you've been sexually assaulted by an Oklahoma City police officer. You know, you're opening the floodgates. You're opening the door. All they had to do was say yes."
Although most of the women said nothing had happened, 10 made allegations, including the 17-year-old teenager whose DNA was found to match the unknown female profile found on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants.
The teenager said Daniel had stopped her with another female and male on June 17, 2014, and then later that evening, after giving her a ride to her mother's home to verify it was where she lived, had pat-searched her and then digitally penetrated her before raping her for about ten minutes through the unzipped fly of his buckled pants on her mother’s porch.
It did not occur to investigators that the mixture of DNA from at least 3 people, including at least one male, on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants could have transferred via his hands from the teenager and her female and male friends during routine police contact that an officer has with questioned individuals.
Presumed guilty by the police department, media, and the public, the Oklahoma City Police Department’s process of seeking allegations from African-American women ultimately led to 13 accusers in the trial.
These 13 included the 10 complainants procured by police by using Daniel's own records, and 3 women -- including the complainant whose June 18th allegation sparked the investigation -- who came forward on their own. Daniel was ultimately acquitted of the accusations made by the two other women who came forward without first being contacted by police.
PRE-TRIAL PUBLICITY LED TO 8 KNOWN FALSE ALLEGATIONS
In addition to the 13 allegations that would go to trial, 8 individuals made allegations that were determined to be false immediately and therefore did not lead to charges.
One of those individuals, Shaneice Barksdale, admitted in a videotaped police interview that she had made up her allegations to try to help the case because she felt bad for the 57-year-old woman who came forward and didn't want her to feel she was the only victim. Barksdale was the only false accuser convicted of falsely reporting a crime (State of Oklahoma v. Shaneice Barksdale, Case No. CM-2015-1413).
Another woman who made a false allegation, Shakara Walker, told an Oklahoma City News 9 TV station reporter on August 22, 2014, that she had nearly become a victim of Daniel Holtzclaw in his police uniform and patrol car the week before. “As I was walking to the house, he tried to grab me and make it seem like he was gonna rape me," Walker recalled. But this was impossible because Daniel was put on administrative leave on June 18, 2014, stripped of his uniform, badge, and patrol car.
After the video about Ms. Walker's allegation aired as if it were valid, the article was later updated at the bottom to report that the OKCPD believed her allegation to be false: "The Oklahoma City police told News 9 they have been receiving several false complaints against Officer Daniel Holtzclaw. Police believe the information provided by Shakara Walker in this story to be false, because they say Holtzclaw has been on paid administrative leave for the last month."
DETECTIVES OVERLOOKED RED FLAGS IN THE ALLEGATIONS THAT WENT TO TRIAL
Although the prosecution weeded out eight obviously false allegations because of their inconsistencies, detectives ignored similarly major discrepancies that were red flags in the claims of complainants whose allegations headed to trial.
Police discounted and dismissed evidence of Daniel’s innocence, such as descriptions of the assailant as a dark-skinned man or a short, black officer, and allegations that failed to match Daniel's patrol car locations or the shortness of the actual stops as revealed by the patrol car AVL. (www.HoltzclawDNAreport.com)
As one example, mentioned previously, a woman described her assailant as a black police officer and indicated he was several inches shorter than her own height of 5'11". Daniel Holtzclaw is Japanese-American, over 6'1" tall, and pale-skinned. The woman also said she was raped for about five to ten minutes in a public park. Yet Daniel’s patrol car GPS data showed it could only have been motionless for less than 3 minutes and 50 seconds. This allegation alone would lead to a guilty verdict and a 62-year sentence.
As a second example of discrepancies in an allegation that led to a guilty verdict, a woman alleged that Daniel allowed her to drive while intoxicated and that he followed her in his patrol car onto a street where she said he parked briefly, letting her drop off her car at a relative’s home, before he drove her down the street and raped her while parked in the yard of a house. But Daniel’s patrol car AVL data shows his patrol car never drove down that street, disproving her claim.
Furthermore, the woman initially alleged that Daniel raped her for "a long time," which then dwindled down to “for about five or ten minutes” during the preliminary hearing. During the trial she would change her story again to say “maybe about three minutes or so,” her allegation shifting to become closer and closer to the actual short time that Daniel was parked at the end of the street. Daniel's patrol radio call data and AVL show there would have been only 3 minutes during which any alleged assault could have occurred. Those 3 minutes would have had to include the time it would take for him to exit the patrol car, open the back right passenger door, commit the alleged rape, and then return to the driver’s seat and drive away.
As yet another example, one of the five women whose allegations would lead to acquittals made a videotaped statement that contradicted her claim of oral sodomy.
This woman was arrested by Daniel for using PCP and was brought to the hospital because she had overdosed by crushing a vial with her teeth and swallowing it while also spilling PCP on her clothes. Daniel waited with her at the hospital until staff approved she was well enough, and then he took her to jail. Afterwards, she and Daniel messaged on Facebook as he made sure she was okay and staying out of trouble. She chatted about how she was doing and even sent him a smiley face.
Months later, the woman accused Daniel of orally sodomizing her while she was in the hospital.
Daniel would ultimately be found not guilty of her allegation after she was caught on video telling a detective, “Even if like, even if he didn’t like even rape nobody or nothing, he’s still getting … he’s been in contact with people that he’s arrested." The detective did not mention the woman's statement in his written report.
Despite the flawed investigation and shaky allegations, Daniel Holtzclaw's police department presumed Daniel was guilty and fired him long before the criminal trial.
The Oklahoma City Police chief released Daniel's termination letter to the public -- the jury pool -- in January 2015, ten months before the trial. In this letter to Daniel, the police chief wrote: "Your offenses committed against women in our community constitute the greatest abuse of police authority I have witnessed in my 37 years as a member of this agency. These violations more than warrant your termination from the Oklahoma City Police Department.”
The biased investigation in which Daniel's police department presumed Daniel was guilty, promoted shaky allegations, dismissed exculpatory evidence, and denounced Daniel publicly, culminated in a trial permeated with further injustices.
AN UNFAIR TRIAL
Leading up to the trial, many people presumed Daniel was guilty because he was a police officer accused by multiple African-American women. The discovery of DNA on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants also caused people -- unaware that non-intimate skin cell DNA can transfer indirectly -- to believe in his guilt.
The political establishment in Oklahoma targeted Daniel Holtzclaw from the beginning and portrayed his case as an issue of “black vs. white” even though detectives solicited allegations from at-risk African-American women, and Daniel Holtzclaw is Japanese-American.
Daniel describes how the mass media and their fabricated headlines, including misleading information, altered the public’s opinion of him, which was extremely unfair.
In today's society, “people tend to believe everything they see on television," Daniel writes. "The police department and DA’s office use that" to their advantage "to sway the public opinion about me.”
As a result of biased reporting on Daniel's case, Daniel was convicted in the court of public opinion, leading to protests during the trial. Outside the courthouse, protesters screamed, “Give him life!” and, “Racist jury, racist cop.”
Two Oklahoma attorneys, Mr. Randall T. Coyne and Mr. J. Christian Adams, describe how the mob denied Daniel a fair trial in their amicus brief that the Court of Criminal Appeals refused to accept. Quoting the attorneys' brief:
"More than 100 people regularly jammed the hallway with multiple TV interviews and other press interviews taking place, a throng so packed one could hardly move through it. TR 1530-32. As the prosecutor acknowledged, 'it’s very, very crowded and a lot of – a lot of activity going on out there and it seems like every reporter is trying to get some sound bite from anybody who’ll talk to them is what it appears.' TR 1532. The courtroom has an 'extremely small' jury room, and jurors during breaks would be in the same hallway as the crowd, using the same public restrooms and having to wait up to 7-8 minutes amid the chaos for one of the slow courthouse elevators to arrive. TR 1531-32; 4315. The situation prompted the trial court to try to restrict interviews to a roped-off area, albeit still within sight of jurors. TR 1533-36. That effort was ineffectual, however, and the disruptions continued. TR 2317."
The impact of the mob that was calling for Daniel's conviction was described in articles with headlines such as: “High Volume of Chanting Protesters Interrupt Holtzclaw Trial” (Nov. 17, 2015) and “Protesters' chants interrupt sex-crimes trial of former Oklahoma City police officer” (Nov., 18, 2015).
The protest leader told a media interviewer that she organized demonstrations because “there was not enough uproar” and she recalled that “If he wasn’t found guilty, I cannot guarantee that something would not have exploded emotionally” (CRTV.com, “Daniel in the Den,” December 2016).
Attorneys Coyne and Adams observe that “the protesters evidently had assistance from inside the courtroom, since their shouts suddenly stopped as defense counsel rose to object, or when the jury was out.”
“Whenever [the protest leader] Franklin yelled, ‘36 counts,’ the group shouted, ‘We want life!’” reported an article on Nov. 18, 2015.
This coordinated chaos and mob frenzy that denied Daniel his right to a fair trial was facilitated by the City of Oklahoma City and the district attorney because the city granted the protest permit and the district attorney's office and even the judge knew about it.
The trial judge disclosed at trial that after talking to the district attorney weeks before the trial, he had learned from the DA that “the organizer of the protests…actually got a permit to protest. But I don't know really what can be done other than to admonish the jury to disregard” the commotion.
The jurors were aware of the disruptions and mob agitation. After the trial, one of the jurors said that the chaos didn’t bother him, but he acknowledged that there was “concern” among other jurors. When the juror was asked by the reporter, "Were some of the other jurors concerned that things could get out of hand if the verdict didn't go the way they wanted?" the juror replied, “There was concern. You know. There were, you know, people in the jury ... I'm a big guy you know I just ... it didn't bother me. I had faith that everything would be good.”
While protests raged outside the courtroom, inside the courtroom, the State’s forensic analyst and prosecutor misled the jury into believing that vaginal fluid, rather than innocent skin cell DNA indirect transfer, had deposited the DNA matching a 17-year-old that was found on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants. The prosecutor untruthfully told the jury in his closing argument that it was a "fact" that her DNA on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants had transferred in her vaginal fluid. Daniel's trial attorney did not object.
The linchpin of the case was the 17-year-old complainant who testified that she had a lot of psychiatric problems and had been to treatment for trying powder cocaine, meth, and PCP in the past.
Even though there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the teen and her mother, the allegation of rape would result in a conviction because the teen was found to match the unknown female DNA profile obtained from the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants, and the prosecutor told the jury untruthfully that the DNA originated from the teen’s vaginal fluids.
A closer look at the teenager's case shows concerning discrepancies that the jury was willing to ignore.
On the morning of June 17, 2014, the day of the alleged sexual assault, the teenager's mother filed a disorderly conduct complaint (assault and battery) against the teen for hitting her mother four or five times on the arm and face. The daughter then disappeared and the mother reporter her as a runaway.
But at trial the mother denied that she’d signed a complaint, even when it was presented to her in court. The teen also denied getting into a physical altercation with her mom on that day. (The teen was later arrested twice for engaging in physical fights with other individuals after June 17, 2014, and then in October 2018 the teen was arrested and charged with a felony for assault and battery upon a police officer.)
The mother of the 17-year-old teenager also told a detective that her daughter had called the officer a “hot cop” on the night when the daughter, months later, alleged the officer had raped her earlier that evening.
Yet during the trial, the mother then denied ever telling police that her daughter had called the officer a “hot cop,” even when the mother was confronted with an audio recording of her own words.
A second example of problematic testimony that nevertheless led the jury to convict Daniel is the allegation of a woman who was “obviously intoxicated” when she arrived to testify. The woman told the Court that she had only taken her prescription medicine and nothing else, yet her drug test then came back positive for PCP. She then testified with PCP in her system. At one point at the courthouse she refused to testify and tried to leave, but police detained her for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. The male detective told the Court, outside of the jury’s hearing, “I’ve spent a lot of time with her and she’s – you’re right […] she’s got kind of a fried brain.”
Another woman whose allegations led to a conviction, despite concerns about her credibility and the lack of evidence, had multiple felony convictions and a documented history of lying to the police (she was arrested for making a false 911 call). She used crack cocaine purchased with her prostitution money and was getting high on crack on the night Daniel stopped her.
This woman testified while in custody due to relapsing in her drug use program. She accused Daniel of orally sodomizing and raping her in her bedroom. She said that afterwards she wiped the liquid from her mouth onto a chair.
Yet the forensic evidence did not support her allegations. Testing the chair back for seminal fluid gave a negative result, and swabbing it for non-semen DNA revealed a complete profile of an unknown male who was not Daniel.
Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, the jury found Daniel guilty of oral sodomy, but acquitted him on charge of rape even though there was no evidence for either allegation.
The perceived power of the misrepresented DNA evidence in the teenager's case and the combination of many allegations in one trial led jurors to minimize the importance of contradictions in the testimony.
The jury was never made aware that the forensic analyst and prosecutor had misrepresented the DNA evidence. Jurors were also never directly told that the female DNA profile was in a mixture of DNA from at least one other female and an unknown male. Daniel had initially stopped and questioned the teenager as well as two arguing individuals who accompanied her -- a female and a male.
The presence of male DNA and its significance were not overtly revealed to the jury. The State's DNA analyst even told the jury that the two DNA samples from inside the fly of the uniform pants lacked male DNA, contradicting the lab's DNA quantification data page, initialed by her own hand, that showed male DNA was present.
As was explained earlier, the male DNA proved that an individual’s DNA could transfer to the fly of Daniel's uniform pants without the involvement of that person’s vaginal fluids, since men don’t make vaginal fluid. None of this important information was conveyed to the jurors.
The forensic analyst falsely testified that Daniel's DNA was not found on the fly of his uniform pants, contradicting her own written reports that said this was inconclusive because of insufficient data.
The prosecution then used the alleged absence of Daniel's DNA to argue that vaginal fluid was present because, according to their argument, if Daniel had innocently transferred female DNA on his fingers, you would expect him to transfer his own DNA, as well, from his fingers to the fly of his pants where he touched.
This argument breaks down because the State's own data showed it was inconclusive whether or not Daniel was a contributor. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, scientific research by Cale et al., available before the start of Daniel's trial, proved that we can transfer another person's skin cell DNA that is on our hands without transferring our own DNA in detectable quantities to objects we touch.
Daniel's trial attorney did not catch or challenge the prosecution's false claims about the DNA evidence.
Additionally, the jury was never informed that even before the start of the trial, scientific research in 2010 discovered a woman’s DNA is able to transfer from her face and hands via a man’s hands to his underwear and even genitals.
Quoting the Forensic Experts’ Report on the Holtzclaw case, “A study by Jones and Scott (2010) published five years before the trial, revealed that a woman’s DNA can transfer indirectly from her face and hands to a man’s hands, and then, after the man unzipped his pants, from his hands to his cotton underwear and even penis during simulated urination, such that the female DNA was found on 33% of the underwear sampled (50% exhibited 15+ alleles), and also on 67% of the penile swabs (1 - 5 alleles). Sarah Jones & Kirsty Scott, The Transfer of DNA Through Non-intimate, Social Contact, 50 SCIENCE AND JUSTICE 100, 104 (2010). This research was recently corroborated. Sarah Jones et al., DNA Transfer Through Nonintimate Social Contact, 56 SCIENCE AND JUSTICE 90, 91, 95 (2016).”
Many of the jurors initially planned to acquit Daniel at his trial because of accusers’ credibility issues but ultimately decided to convict on 18 out of 36 counts because of the DNA evidence, meaning that the DNA misrepresentations had a huge impact on the trial outcome.
Although no direct evidence supported the allegations of sexual assault and numerous contradictions existed in the women's testimony, Daniel was convicted of some or all of the allegations by eight complainants. He was acquitted of the allegations of the remaining five women in the trial.
“The DNA evidence was very crucial” in the deliberations, according to one juror.
A second juror revealed that he believed the DNA had transferred in vaginal fluid because the jurors were told this during the trial, demonstrating that the jury was misled by the prosecutor’s false claim that the teenager’s DNA transferred in vaginal fluid. That juror said, “Well, I mean, I'm not a DNA expert. They told us it was DNA from the vaginal fluid from a 17-year-old." See Crime Watch Daily Investigates the Case of Daniel Holtzclaw (Telepictures Productions television broadcast Apr. 28, 2017).
This second juror has also explained the impact that the DNA evidence had on the verdict: “At first, [the juror] said, a number of jurors were ready to set Holtzclaw free because they didn’t believe some of Holtzclaw’s accusers. ‘There was some jurors that – due to that fact [of] who these victims were – had a hard time believing them,’ [the juror] said. [He] says that it was DNA evidence on the inside of Holtzclaw’s pants and testimony involving a 17-year-old victim that helped get the deliberations moving.” Susan Welsh et al., How the Daniel Holtzclaw Jury Decided to Send the Ex-Oklahoma City Police Officer to Prison for 263 Years, ABC News (May 20, 2016).
Daniel writes, “From the start of this nightmare it has been a one-sided story.”
“It’s not innocent until proven guilty. It’s you got to prove yourself innocent, and then fight for your freedom. It was unfair. I didn’t receive a fair trial,” Daniel says.
It is profoundly dangerous when prosecutors misuse DNA to secure a conviction and when a defendant is treated as guilty long before the trial, as Daniel Holtzclaw's case illustrates.
Daniel has maintained his innocence throughout this ordeal. He was convicted on his birthday, Dec. 10, 2015.
Daniel recalls how he felt during the reading of the verdict: "I was very emotional. I was shell-shocked. I was dumbfounded when the verdict came down. The first one was a guilty. In my mind, I certainly believed I was going to be found acquitted. I was going to be able to be back with my family."
The judge sentenced Daniel to 263 years in prison on Jan. 21, 2016. Daniel Holtzclaw's life, as he knew it, was over. But Daniel's and his supporters' fight to prove his innocence and regain his freedom was only beginning.
THE INJUSTICE CONTINUES
“I believe I will be awarded a retrial,” Daniel writes. “When people are able to actually look into the case and research the facts, they are flabbergasted by the injustice.”
Daniel’s appeal brief was filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Feb. 1, 2017, but was denied on August 1, 2019. (See the Court Docket for Daniel Holtzclaw's Appeal here.) Daniel has appealed this unjust denial of his direct appeal by filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 30, 2019.
THE DIRECT APPEAL: DENIED
In Daniel's direct appeal before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, his state-appointed attorneys raised numerous due process errors in his trial.
One key error in Daniel’s trial is that all 13 cases were joined together in a single trial when each allegation, by itself, stood a much lower chance of a guilty verdict. According to the preliminary hearing judge, some of the allegations would not even have gone to trial on their own because the State had not met its burden of proof for them, but the judge allowed those charges to advance because of the totality of allegations against Daniel.
A second error is that the protests of a mob were allowed to influence the trial. Yet the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an amicus brief by two Oklahoma attorneys arguing for Daniel’s convictions to be overturned because his trial was repeatedly disrupted by screaming protesters.
Two other errors in Daniel’s trial, and ones that sealed his fate, were that the prosecution misrepresented the DNA evidence used to convict Daniel, and Daniel’s trial attorney did not challenge those misrepresentations.
Central to Daniel's appeal is the shoddy work of the State's forensic analyst, whose flawed conclusions and testimony about DNA on the fly of Daniel's uniform pants were used by the prosecution to claim unscientifically that vaginal fluid had transferred DNA to the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants, when in fact no evidence of vaginal fluid was detected.
Accordingly, Daniel's appellate attorney filed an Application for Evidentiary Hearing on Sixth Amendment Claims because Daniel's trial attorney was ineffective at exposing and countering multiple misrepresentations of the DNA evidence.
Yet the Oklahoma state government is now keeping secret the personnel records of the State's forensic analyst, whose errors contributed heavily to Daniel’s wrongful conviction.
The State's forensic analyst retired just days after Daniel's appeal brief was filed on Feb. 1, 2017. Oklahoma City then deleted all her e-mails, some of which were later obtained from her hard drive only after members of the media filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for them.
Six internationally renowned forensic experts, including Dr. Peter Gill, concluded that the State’s arguments were so fundamentally flawed as to require a new trial for Daniel. After the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals refused to accept the experts’ amicus brief on scientific issues in the case, the forensic experts released their findings publicly as a "Report on Scientific Issues in the Case of Oklahoma v. Daniel K. Holtzclaw by an International Panel of Forensic Experts."
Most shockingly unfair, two days of secret hearings about the personnel records of the State’s forensic analyst were held by the trial judge and the prosecutor in June of 2017 after the Oklahoma Attorney General noticed her personnel file included information that could help Daniel in his appeal. Daniel and his attorneys weren't even allowed to attend the secret hearings.
Daniel spoke to an Oklahoma news reporter on July 3, 2017, to give his reaction to the secrecy of those hearings.
“I'm extremely upset about it because my trial was unfair and biased, and still to this day it is that way,” Daniel said. “There were two full days where the secret hearing was going on and my lawyer wasn't allowed to be there, let alone know about it. Also, the lead prosecutor in my trial who lied gets to weigh in on a response or have his input. How is that in any way, shape or form fair to me? Not only should I be able to know what is going on, but the public should know, as well.”
“If I was a hardworking taxpayer in Oklahoma, I would be outraged. I would be knocking on doors and trying to find an answer. More importantly for the audience out there listening, this could happen to you and my case could happen to you.”
Oklahoma law professor Randall Coyne describes the unfairness of these secret hearings in an op-ed piece.
New York attorney Oscar Michelen, who has helped exonerate numerous innocent people, also wrote with concern about the injustices in Daniel’s case and particularly the secret hearings:
“[W]hat for me is the most unusual and troubling feature of the case: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals entering a sealing order in the case surrounding hearings involving the DNA evidence presented. […] For me, the secret proceedings in the Holtzclaw case appear to violate two of the most fundamental precepts in American jurisprudence: (1) The right of the accused to attend and be represented at every critical stage of the proceeding and (2) the right of the accused and of the public to an open trial.”
Following the delays caused by the secret hearings and requests for time extensions, Oklahoma’s Attorney General finally filed its “Brief of Appellee” on Oct. 1, 2018, in response to Daniel’s “Brief of Appellant” that had been filed 20 months earlier on Feb. 1, 2017.
The Attorney General was permitted by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to file the “Brief of Appellee’s” Proposition V, about ineffective assistance of trial counsel, under seal. The Attorney General claimed that this was required to comply with the Court’s order that had sealed any documents containing information from OCPD forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s personnel records.
Yet after Daniel’s appellate attorney noticed that the State’s Proposition V contained no protected information, the Court was forced to unseal the document for all to see.
In the “Brief of Appellee,” the Attorney General made blatantly false claims about the DNA evidence in his attempt to prevent Daniel’s conviction from being overturned.
Even though no evidence of vaginal fluid was observed on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants and the State’s forensic analyst admitted that from a scientific standpoint she can’t say how the DNA transferred, the Attorney General claimed in his Brief of the Appellee that “there is nothing improper” in the prosecutor’s closing argument that DNA transferred in vaginal fluid “as it is fully supported by the evidence presented at trial” (Brief of the Appellee at 34),
Next, in defiance of the vast body of scientific research on secondary DNA transfer, including research that shows a woman’s skin cell DNA can transfer from her face and hands via a man’s hands to his underpants and even genitals when he simulates urination, the Attorney General put forward a claim completely contradicted by science: “All the testimony in the world about secondary transfer would not have explained how [the teenager’s] DNA ended up in this area [the inside of the fly of Mr. Holtzclaw’s pants], an area one would not typically touch when going about his day, even to use the restroom.” (Brief of the Appellee, p. 46)
Ignoring all the injustices in Daniel's trial, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied Daniel's appeal on August 1, 2019, while also deciding not to grant an Evidentiary Hearing on Sixth Amendment Claims that his trial attorney was ineffective in challenging the prosecution's flawed DNA analysis and arguments.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI
On December 30, 2019, Daniel Holtzclaw’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari was filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by his attorney James Hankins to seek review of the unjust and unconstitutional ruling against Daniel issued by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) in August 2019.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Daniel’s case in March 2020, but filing the Cert Petition had a strategic benefit: it has provided Daniel with seven extra months before his Federal Habeas Corpus Petition is due.
The former Oklahoma City police officer’s 29-page petition alerts the highest court in the land to “problematic” secret hearings, “faulty DNA analysis,” “false testimony,” and prosecutorial “manipulation and misleading of the jury.”
Daniel’s cert petition focused on two key legal questions regarding “prosecutorial misrepresentation of scientific evidence at trial” (p. 9) and “improper joinder” (p. 16) of 13 accusers en masse alleging disparate crimes spanning 36 charges. Lumping them all together created “a self-corroborating cascade of testimony” that “reinforced its own credibility through volume.” (p. 7) Daniel “prays respectfully” that the court will “review the judgement” of the OCCA. (p. 20)
Daniel’s petition about his internationally known, high-profile case warranted the Supreme Court justices’ attention for numerous reasons:
FIRST, for the first time since Daniel’s ordeal began in June 2014, the legal record now reflects an accurate account of how the Oklahoma City Police Department’s biased investigation and procurement of 13 accusers went wrong.
The cert petition’s statement of facts (p. 3) outlines:
How accusers on whose charges Holtzclaw was found guilty had erroneously described an assailant “as a short man with blond hair” or “a black man shorter than her height of 5'11" and darker than her own skin tone” – when Holtzclaw is 6'1", pale-skinned, and Japanese-American;
How accusers on whose charges Holtzclaw was acquitted included a woman who wildly claimed while high on drugs that Holtzclaw had “assaulted her while she was in a hospital bed” in a busy emergency room and another woman “who had told detectives initially that no officer had been inappropriate with her except for a black police officer who had exposed himself to her,” but later lodged a claim that Holtzclaw induced her to expose her breasts; and
How the OCCA’s factual recitation of the case crucially omitted “that detectives used Holtzclaw’s police records to contact and solicit further complaining witnesses” and specifically sought out “African-American women with ‘drug and prostitution histories and arrest warrants’ to falsely inform them that detectives had ‘received a tip’ that they were ‘possibly sexually assaulted by an Oklahoma City police officer’ who ‘was a really bad guy.’” It was detectives, not Officer Holtzclaw, who deliberately profiled minority women in northeast Oklahoma City to achieve their goal: winning a conviction, not seeking the truth.
SECOND, the U.S. Supreme Court and the wider public will now be educated about the “false testimony” and “false analysis” of the only independent forensic evidence in the case proffered by the prosecution in an attempt to substantiate any of the accusers’ claims: the “lynchpin” DNA matched to one out of the 13 accusers brought to trial whose mother said she described the officer as a “hot cop.”
Assistant D.A. Gieger falsely told jurors, with no scientific basis, that it was a “fact” that the DNA evidence on the fly of Holtzclaw’s uniform pants could have only come from being “transferred in vaginal fluids” from the accuser.
But, as Daniel’s petition notes, this DNA mixture consisted of at least three contributors, including the female accuser, one male, and at least one or more unknown others. OCPD crime lab analyst Elaine Taylor admitted the DNA could have come from “secondary transfer” via “Holtzclaw’s hands to the fly area of his pants after he had searched her purse,” while also testifying falsely that Holtzclaw’s DNA was “excluded” from the mixture, when it was not. The prosecution used Taylor’s false claim that Holtzclaw’s DNA was absent to argue unscientifically in favor of the presence of vaginal fluid, even though Taylor observed no stains or deposits on the fly of his pants. (p. 12)
THIRD, Daniel’s petition sounds the alarm on “incompetent government forensic analysts and non-disclosure of faulty DNA analysis and testimony, all under the shroud of a secret hearing attended by government lawyers where defense lawyers were excluded.” (p. 9)
Complicated DNA science is of increasing public concern because of the “inherent opportunity for manipulation and misleading of the jury” (p. 14) by the government -- not just in Holtzclaw’s case, but nationwide. Crime lab misconduct over the past two decades, including OCPD’s infamous Joyce Gilchrist scandal, has resulted in countless wrongful convictions.
Like Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, whose Supreme Court cert petition is pending, Daniel asks the court to adopt a legal standard for review of scientifically invalid expert testimony that “better reflects the uniquely prejudicial impact that faulty scientific evidence has on lay jurors,” who give “disproportionate weight” to DNA evidence. (p. 14) Daniel’s petition informs the high court of the extraordinary secret hearing process, deemed “harmless” by the OCCA, which denied Daniel the opportunity to involve “scientists able to explain the severity of forensic science errors at the heart of the convictions:”
After the Oklahoma Attorney General disclosed to Daniel’s appellate lawyers that its office had received new information post-trial concerning retired OCPD crime lab analyst Elaine Taylor’s “personnel record,” an internal review of her Holtzclaw trial testimony, the OCCA directed district judge Timothy Henderson to review the information privately in his chambers with both parties present.
Instead, Judge Henderson conducted an ex parte hearing in June 2017 on Taylor’s flawed Holtzclaw trial testimony and other alleged “personnel” matters that barred Holtzclaw’s lawyers from attending--but “allowed the prosecutor [Gayland Gieger] who had misrepresented the DNA evidence in his closing argument...to question witnesses,” including Taylor’s crime lab supervisor.
Daniel’s lawyers were eventually allowed to review the secret hearing transcripts and exhibits, some of which were shared with “multiple outside” government agencies, yet remain sealed and hidden from the public to this day.
But even more problematic than the secret meetings were the OCCA’s decisions that 1) denied Daniel’s request to share the secret transcripts with his scientific expert and supplement an ineffective counsel claim with new information the expert could have provided, and 2) allowed the State an “unfair litigation advantage” to pre-litigate the sealed DNA issues. Both the Attorney General and the District Attorney had access to the information before the secret hearing was convened, while robbing Daniel of the ability to defend himself by questioning witnesses in the hearing. (p. 11-12)
In conclusion, Daniel’s attorney Mr. Hankins writes: “Thirteen separate complaining witnesses telling the jury about thirty-six different types of crimes...combined with the prosecution’s misrepresentation of the DNA evidence, must necessarily have prevented the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence.” (p. 20)
Flawed DNA analysis and false testimony on a single accuser’s charges, bootstrapped to dubious testimony from accusers (who were actively solicited by detectives with not a single shred of independent corroborating evidence), undermined the fundamental fairness of Daniel Holtzclaw’s trial. That injustice was compounded by the OCCA’s dismissal of the problematic secret hearing as a mere “footnote.”
Jenny Holtzclaw stated on behalf of her brother and family: “We pray that the U.S. Supreme Court will take note of Daniel’s petition and see the legal, scientific, and national significance of his wrongful conviction. Prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to lie about forensic evidence to juries. The government shouldn’t be allowed to hide crucial information about its crime lab employees, especially when they make false statements about DNA that was innocently transferred. No American fighting for his freedom and life should be banned from secret hearings and barred from presenting outside scientific experts to judges. Daniel is innocent and we will continue to fight in every court of law and the court of public opinion to free him.”
Daniel is now in the process of preparing an Oklahoma state Application for Post-Conviction Relief, which must be completed before March 2021.
HOW DANIEL IS DOING
While Daniel is in prison, he is staying strong and is envisioning the future. He says he will never give up fighting for his freedom because he is an innocent man.
"If anyone knows me they know that if I was guilty, I would be a man and I would tell my family, especially my father, 'Don't support me. Go ahead and go on. Let me be.' I would let my family go. I'm not guilty of this," Daniel explains from prison.
"I am not guilty for any these crimes. I did not do anything of sexual nature. I did not come on to any of these women. I did my job to the fullest of my ability which I gave an oath, sworn to protect and serve and that's what I did."
“I rely on my faith, which has kept me strong to this day,” writes Daniel in his letter to the parole board in 2018. "If ever I’m able to have a platform to speak my side I will without a doubt because police officers are being targeted each day! I will inform the public that this can happen to them and not to be ignorant.”
Daniel is hopeful about the future and thankful to all his supporters.
“I constantly dream about being exonerated,” Daniel tells supporters in an update on the petition to free him. “I see great things happening. I truly mean this, I'm going to do everything I can to advocate for the innocent. My spirit, morale, my ongoing fight wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for all of you. This is a team effort and I'm excited for what the future brings.”
"I believe in my heart that I will be awarded a retrial in which I will be exonerated."
UNCUFF THE INNOCENT is working to make Daniel's dream of freedom come true. With your support, we can help free Daniel and other innocent people who have been wrongfully accused and convicted.