After singer David Daniels' guilty plea, the victim speaks out
Editor's note: This report includes accounts of sexual abuse.
When Samuel Schultz walked into a courthouse in Houston, Texas, last Friday morning, he expected that he would be testifying against David Daniels — a man once revered by the opera world as one of its finest singers — and Daniels' husband, Scott Walters.
Five years ago this month, Schultz had come forward to accuse Daniels and Walters of drugging and raping him in 2010, when he was a graduate student at Rice University. After meeting through a mutual friend at a party following one of Daniels' performances at Houston Grand Opera, the couple invited Schultz, who is also an opera singer, back to the apartment where they were staying.
Schultz, a baritone singer who is now 36, had been looking forward to networking with Daniels, a noted countertenor who then regularly performed on many of the world's top stages. At the apartment, Schultz unknowingly took a spiked drink from the couple, blacked out, and was sexually assaulted.
In the years since Schultz made his accusations public, Daniels, 57, and Walters, 40, who had been married by the then-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg in 2014, had consistently proclaimed their innocence. In a stunning last-minute turn, however, with a jury already seated and with the trial just about to start, Daniels and Walters instead admitted their guilt. Both men pleaded guilty to having sexually assaulted an adult, which is a second-degree felony.
By making a plea deal, the two men avoided the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault and potential prison time. Instead, they each face eight years of probation, lifetime requirements to register as sex offenders, and an order to refrain from contact with Schultz. (The case is being transferred from Texas, where the assault occurred, to Georgia, where Daniels and Walters live.) Daniels' and Walters' attorney, Matt Hennessy, did not respond to NPR's request for comment.
In an interview with NPR Monday, Schultz maintains that the defense had tried to exhaust him into giving up since he first came forward. "It has been 13 years since I first experienced this trauma," he says, "and the last five years have been way more difficult than I could have imagined. A large part of that is the delay tactics the defense used to try to exhaust me, to try to make me give up. And we see people who can't beat the truth use delay tactics to further malign the people they've abused."
Schultz was perhaps the most public accuser against Daniels, but not the only one. In 2020, the singer was fired by the University of Michigan from his tenured position following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. A lawsuit between former UM student Andrew Lipian and the university, in which Lipian accused Daniels of sexually harassing and assaulting him, was settled in May.
The pandemic accounted for some of the trial delays in Houston, but Schultz maintains that the five-year gap between his accusations and the day the two men pleaded in court created further trauma. "I've been accused of lying," Schultz observes, noting that several powerful former colleagues of Daniels publicly defended the countertenor. "When I first came forward, I was accused of taking advantage of the MeToo movement. Of course I took advantage of the MeToo movement! That's why the MeToo movement exists — for survivors to finally claim power that they've been denied."
"The reality is these defendants admitted their guilt in court on Friday after spending the last five years lying about their innocence," Schultz continues. "In a sense, I've been the one on public trial. I've been the one expected to cope with the burden of publicly calling out dangerous people. I never imagined they would admit their guilt. And I was shocked when at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, when they were confronted with the overwhelming evidence the state was about to present, including my testimony, they accepted a plea agreement."
Schultz says that hearing Daniels and Walters plead guilty created "emotional whiplash" for him. "David Daniels was the first to plead," he remembers. "After he pleaded guilty, the judge said something to the effect of 'You're pleading guilty because you are guilty?' 'Yes.' 'There's no other reason you're pleading guilty?' 'No.' Hearing that full and complete admission of guilt, with no qualification, with no asterisk, was overwhelmingly powerful."
Moving forward, Schultz says, he plans to use his experience to continue to be an advocate. After making his accusations against Daniels and Walters, he briefly served as an official in the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), the union that represents opera performers, but resigned after he accused the union of trying to create a "sweetheart deal" with star singer Placido Domingo, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 20 women. The union had conducted an investigation into Domingo, who walked away from a planned $500,000 settlement with AGMA.
"We have systems within institutions that are based on centuries of tradition," Schultz says emphatically. "As a result, we accept certain norms — the sweeping under the rug of the powerful's sometimes egregious behavior. I would hope that within conservatories, young artist programs, universities, and public institutions, we start to examine processes we've accepted as normal. Let's get back to the basics of how we recognize human dignity despite status, despite fame, and despite money. I know that's going to take a long time, but I hope this is a big nudge to engage in that work."
Schultz says that despite the pain of the past several years, he's tried to keep other victims front of mind "as an opportunity to speak for those who haven't felt that they have a voice, to use the experience I've endured to help bring about an understanding and empathy — and maybe even some systemic changes, so this road is a little bit easier for those who come behind me."
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.