Lawyers for a woman who claims she was raped as a minor while working on a production for the Houston Grand Opera are bewildered by a grand jury's decision not to indict the accused rapist last year.
"We feel that the ball was dropped," says Rick Prieto, who represents Amber Dewalt, now 18. "We feel that in a case like this, where an adult engages in sex with a minor -- with a child -- there is no situation whatsoever where that's acceptable. It's statutory rape, period."
He added that Dewalt and her family "are just as perplexed as we all are, and that's something that...we're going to be looking into further....The short answer is, they are blown away by the fact that the criminal investigation ended the way that it did."
Dewalt was working as an extra on a production of Dead Man Walking when, according to the suit, she was sexually assaulted by another extra, 22-year-old Gerald Guidry. Guidry was charged in April 2011 with sexual assault of a minor, but the charge was dropped after the grand jury declined to indict. Both Guidry and his attorney, Cynthia Rayfield, declined to comment on the civil suit.
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Gwen Dobrowski, another attorney representing Dewalt, says the allegations should concern any parent whose children perform in, or attend, local theater productions.
"Case in point right now is The Nutracker," Dobrowski says. "It goes on every year, it's a hugely popular event, and not only do minors come there to watch...many minors are in the ballet performance. And the Houston Ballet, just like the Houston Grand Opera, both employ minors in their productions. If I am a parent and my child is either in a production or going to the Wortham...the question that would come to my mind is...'Is my child safe?'....The reality is, someone dropped the ball all across the board here...and what happened was a grossly horrible act of rape occurred and they could have avoided this."
According to the suit, the HGO did not provide Dewalt with the supervision given to other minors in the same production.
"Despite being a minor, and HGO's policy of assigning to minors 'wranglers' to watch over them, Dewalt was not supervised and was permitted...to intermingle with HGO's adult actors," the suit alleges.