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Trial for former Oklahoma police officer accused of rape begins

OKLAHOMA City (Reuters) - The trial of a former Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting 13 women while on duty began on Monday.

Daniel Holtzclaw, 28, pleaded not guilty to 36 felony counts including rape and sexual assault, as well as burglary. He was fired from the force in January 2014, and if convicted could face multiple life sentences.

Holtzclaw, who had worked for the Oklahoma City Police Department for three years, was arrested in August 2014 after an investigation into accusations by seven victims. During that probe, six more victims were identified.

Jury selection began Monday and court officials said the trial could last all of November. Holtzclaw’s attorney has said he plans to ask for a change of venue if he finds prospective jurors have been impacted by pre-trial publicity.

Other court officials were unsure if a media blackout would be imposed to protect the identities of underage victims or others.

Holtzclaw is accused of forcing several women to perform sex or coercing them through threats of arrest into performing sexual acts.

During a pre-trial last year, 13 women, all African-American, testified about being forced into sex with the officer, who threatened many of them with jail. The charges include six counts of first-degree rape.

“He was an officer. And I was scared. And I knew he could hurt me,” one woman said in court last year.

Another victim, aged 17, said last year that she was raped by Holtzclaw on the front porch of her mother’s home. She testified Holtzclaw picked her up while she walking home and threatened to arrest her on outstanding warrants.

Reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by Ben Klayman and Sandra Maler