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Opera singer David Daniels pleads guilty in sexual assault trial

David Daniels performs in the title role of Handel's <em>Giulio Cesare</em> at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007.
Jack Vartoogian
Getty Images
David Daniels performs in the title role of Handel's Giulio Cesare at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007.

David Daniels, one of the opera world's most well-known countertenors, pleaded guilty along with his husband Scott Walters on Friday in a Houston district court to drugging and raping a young vocalist in 2010.

Plaintiff Samuel Schultz was a 23-year-old graduate student at Rice University in Houston, Texas, when he met Daniels and Walters at a party following one of Daniels' performances at the Houston Grand Opera. The couple invited him to the apartment where they were staying, and there he was sexually assaulted after a spiked drink caused the young singer to black out.

Daniels now faces eight years of probation for the second degree felony, as well as a requirement that he register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. In addition, the singer is ordered to refrain from contact with Schultz. Walters faces the same penalties.

"I am glad that the defendants have acknowledged by their guilty pleas the truth of my traumatic experience, and that this portion of my nightmarish ordeal has finally concluded," said Schultz in a statement shared with NPR. "I am glad that they are receiving punishments that the court deems to appropriately address the severity of their crimes."

"We are deeply relieved that the perpetrators of this despicable crime are finally facing the consequences of their choices," Schultz's family said in a statement provided to NPR. "This plea deal does not undo the monstrous events that led to this day, but we are here to love and support Samuel today and forever. We also know in a criminal legal system as broken as ours, victims rarely get justice for themselves, and our thoughts are with all victims of sexual violence."

Daniels' and Walters' attorney, Matt Hennessy, did not respond immediately to NPR's request for comment.

Daniels initially denied the accusations by Schultz. "These allegations are completely false," the countertenor said in a statement sent to NPR in October 2018, after Schultz went public with his story in an interview with the New York Daily News.

Opera houses around the world canceled Daniels' scheduled appearances once the allegations broke about his sexual misconduct. For example, Daniels was scheduled to sing Medoro in the San Francisco Opera's June 2019 performances of Handel's Orlando. The company removed him from the production in November 2018. The Metropolitan Opera in New York canceled Daniels' contract to perform in another Handel opera, Agrippina, amid the allegations.

The singer also lost his job as a tenured professor of voice at the University of Michigan in 2020.

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Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.