A new report by a panel of internationally renowned DNA experts raises questions about the DNA evidence used to convict former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, casting doubts on the fairness of Holtzclaw’s trial and the justice of his conviction on multiple counts of sexual violence.
The report, authored by world-renowned DNA expert Dr. Peter Gill and five other forensic science experts, states that DNA evidence was misused at Mr. Holtzclaw’s trial, noting, “Miscarriages of justice based on misleading DNA evidence are fundamentally unfair and harmful to the entire judicial system.”
“The misuse of DNA evidence in Mr. Holtzclaw’s trial – and the failure of defense counsel to challenge it – went to the heart of the case and deprived Mr. Holtzclaw of a fair trial,” the report states. “We are concerned that forensic science mistakes were made during collection, analysis, and testimony about the DNA evidence from the fly of Mr. Holtzclaw’s uniform pants, with prosecutorial misconduct violating Mr. Holtzclaw’s rights to due process. Trial defense counsel did not effectively reveal or address these errors, in violation of the Sixth Amendment requirement for effective counsel, causing the DNA evidence to be extremely prejudicial even though it had little probative value because it could be explained by non-intimate DNA indirect transfer.”
In 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 sexual offenses against eight different accusers. The racially charged case drew national attention and outrage, but some including CRTV host Michelle Malkin have questioned the conduct of the investigation and found serious flaws that suggest Holtzclaw’s conviction may have been a mistake.
Reviewing the evidence, the forensic scientists who authored the report argue that the key pieces of DNA evidence used to convict Holtzclaw are not necessarily incriminating.
“The forensic evidence consisting of DNA matching the profile of Ms. C1 along with DNA from unknown individuals was prejudicial because the location on the fly of Mr. Holtzclaw’s uniform pants appeared incriminating,” the report states. “However, it had little probative value because the complainant’s DNA profile was found without any visible stains or deposits, without any body fluid testing, and with low quantities of DNA in mixtures from unknown people, such that it can be explained by non-intimate transfer of skin cell DNA from Ms. C1, her clothes, or her possessions to Mr. Holtzclaw’s hands when he searched her purse and pat-searched her, and then from his hands to the fly of his uniform pants during a restroom break.”
The panel also concluded that the State of Oklahoma mishandled the evidence.
“The low probative value of the DNA in Mr. Holtzclaw’s case was reduced further because the State omitted important steps during collection and testing of the uniform pants. The State did not conduct tests to distinguish between transfer of DNA with body fluid or without. The State also did not consider that DNA may have transferred innocently either before or after the alleged crime, including by contamination. … As a result, investigators did not take crucial steps to prevent DNA contamination of the fly of the uniform pants due to DNA indirect transfer.”
The report states that “numerous studies” exist showing DNA can be transferred from one individual to another indirectly, without the alleged contact between Holtzclaw and these women. For example, one study cited found that a woman’s DNA can travel from her face to a man’s hands, from his hands to his pants, then his underwear, and finally his private parts without any sexual contact whatsoever. Yet Holtzclaw’s defense attorney did not bring these studies to the jury’s attention, despite the fact that the evidence gathered against Holtzclaw was consistent with “non-intimate DNA transfer” and “typical of indirect transfer.”
Further, the state omitted “critical forensic science steps” while collecting evidence, including failing to collect DNA from underwear and penile swabs; conducting no tests for body fluids; neglecting to investigate the source of unknown female and male DNA that could support the non-intimate DNA indirect transfer hypothesis; and failing to ensure that the State’s handling of the evidence avoided contamination that “may have transferred DNA from Ms. C1 and others to the fly of the uniform pants.” The report identifies no fewer than five ways the evidence could have been contaminated.
The issue here, as presented by this report, is that there is reasonable doubt that the DNA evidence used to convict Holtzclaw shows criminal activity. Research cited by the panel notes that jurors tend to place a very high value on DNA evidence “as the most accurate and persuasive evidence of a suspect’s guilt.” Given that the DNA evidence brought forward was likely the weightiest factor in Holtzclaw’s conviction, the forensic panel concludes that Holtzclaw’s conviction was unjust and should be overturned.
“We believe that Mr. Holtzclaw was deprived of his due process right to a fair trial because the State misused DNA evidence – a powerful form of forensic evidence – and trial defense counsel did not correct crucial forensic science misrepresentations and omissions, such that the DNA evidence at the heart of the trial and lacking probative value was extremely prejudicial, corrupting the investigation of Mr. Holtzclaw and impacting the verdict. We believe that Mr. Holtzclaw’s conviction should be overturned and he should be given a new trial. DATED this 25th day of July, 2017.”
Michelle Malkin brought attention to the report in a series of tweets sent Wednesday, following her own extensive investigation into the Holtzcalw case.
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) August 2, 2017
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) August 2, 2017
Holtzclaw is currently serving out a 263-year prison sentence. The findings of this forensic panel demand attention. The panel’s conclusion that Holtzclaw’s conviction should be overturned ought to be on the front pages of every mainstream news outlet in America. Clearly, this case needs to be revisited. Daniel Holtzclaw may be innocent.
Daniel Holtzclaw’s criminal appeal is ongoing, and the case has become the subject of several civil rights suits.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a misstatement of how many crimes Holtzclaw was convicted of. It has also been updated to remove an erroneous reference to Holtzclaw's duty period and to correct a grammatical error.