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Judges order secret documents unsealed in Holtzclaw appeals case

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has ordered secret documents unsealed in the ongoing appeals case of a former Oklahoma City police officer, convicted of raping and sexually assaulting women while on his beat.

Daniel K. Holtzclaw, 31, was sentenced in 2016 to 263 years in prison for preying on women. Holtzclaw appealed the conviction in February of last year. The appeal, itself, has not yet reached the court.

Of the arguments in the appeal, Holtclaw alleges his counsel was ineffective, having failed to call their own expert witness to refute the prosecution's key witness, an Oklahoma City Police lab technician, who said she found a woman's DNA near the zipper of Holtzclaw's uniform pants. Defense attorneys argue the DNA could have been transferred through non-sexual contact, that the source of the DNA was mischaracterized by prosecutors during the trial, and that faulty DNA analysis led to his conviction.

Holtzclaw was portrayed by his trial attorney as a patrol officer who tried to help drug addicts and prostitutes. Holtzclaw pleaded not-guilty and maintains his innocence, claiming Oklahoma City Police detectives jumped to conclusions in forming the criminal case against him based on the testimony of convicted prostitutes and drug-users. Holtzclaw's accusers testified he would stop them, check for warrants or drugs and then force himself on them. He was convicted by an Oklahoma County jury in December 2015 on 18 of 36 sex-related counts, including first-degree rape, forcible oral sodomy and sexual battery.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter asked the court in May 2017 to seal certain appeals case records.

In June 2017, there was a series of secret court hearings where prosecutors presented evidence to an Oklahoma County judge, but defense attorneys weren't allowed into the courtroom. The defense and the public were shut out of the entire proceeding. The judge also ruled on the secret matter, which has never been made public.

Friday's court order unsealed some of the content of those secret hearings. The newly released documents indicate the hearings were "to determine what, if any, of this information compiled as the result of a personnel investigation" of the city's forensic analyst was related to the appeal, and what would be required to be turned over to Holtzclaw's team.

Holtzclaw and his attorneys filed a motion to have the secret filings unsealed. The judges ordered documents under seal to be unsealed, save for personnel records and filings that should remain shielded from public view, at the discretion of the city. The documents are heavily redacted, including some pages left entirely blank.

Requests for comment from Holtzclaw's attorneys, James Lockard and Michael Moreland, were not returned. But in a statement Friday afternoon, Holtzclaw's family insisted on his innocence and demanded a new trial.

"The bottom line on the new ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals is that it affirms Daniel's and our belief--as well as the opinion of legal observers nationwide -- that the secret hearings were also flawed and wrongly denied his lawyers access to the process," said the statement from the Holtzclaw family. "We look forward to the timely adjudication of Daniels's appeal."