A Minor Affair

When young love ended in a rape allegation, the juvenile justice system left a Dallas teen's life in limbo.

Rhonda was automatically suspended from Skyline in accordance with the Dallas Independent School District's new zero-tolerance discipline policy. She never returned. She left her mother's house and moved in with her grandmother in South Dallas and transferred to Lincoln High School.

In mid-October, shortly after Rhonda's 15th birthday, she and Sheldon found themselves in big trouble.

Rhonda told Sheldon she was pregnant. Their horrified parents decided to meet and discuss a course of action. With Rhonda and Sheldon present, the two sets of parents decided that the best option was for Rhonda to get an abortion, the cost of which the parents agreed to share. "We also got strict lectures from all sides," Sheldon recalls.

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A short while later, Rhonda had the abortion, an ordeal that further undermined her fragile emotional state. During the next four to six weeks, Rhonda grew more and more distraught, violently lashing out at Sheldon and family members, according to police reports.

On October 28, while his mother was in Louisiana visiting family and his father was at work, Sheldon got into an argument with Rhonda on the phone that she carried over to the Pearls' front lawn. Sheldon says Rhonda threatened to kill him with a knife and rang his doorbell incessantly. When Sheldon's father came home, he yelled at Rhonda to get away from his house, and she took off running into the night.

On November 14, at 8 p.m., Rhonda called the police to report a fight she was having with one of her relatives at her grandmother's house in South Dallas. The police arrived to find her "highly emotional and upset over problems with...family members," according to the police report. Rhonda told police she recently had an abortion, had been rejected by her mother, and was the object of "constant put-downs" by family members. The police officer called to the scene tried to have Rhonda placed in a shelter, but she refused.

The following weekend, November 17 and 18, Rhonda tried to return to her mother's apartment, but her mother had changed the locks and the apartment's manager would not let her in. Rhonda walked to Sheldon's house, but no one was home; the Pearls were visiting in Louisiana again. Rhonda wound up at the home of Mary Haywood, a neighbor of the Pearls and an elementary school principal who had been a confidante to both Sheldon and Rhonda during their rocky relationship. Rhonda stayed the weekend with Haywood. Haywood says she tried to console Rhonda, who was upset with her mother and with Sheldon, who had been trying to end the relationship. "I told her she was young and would find love again," Haywood says.

Rhonda's grandmother picked up Rhonda Sunday night and took her to the grandmother's home. Just after midnight on Tuesday, November 21, Rhonda got into a heated argument with her grandmother. The grandmother told police Rhonda hit her in the head with her fist, according to a report filed by a police officer who was called to the scene. The grandmother told the officer that Rhonda "has been violent recently and is having personal problems." The police left Rhonda in the custody of her uncle, who lived down the street from the grandmother.

That evening, Rhonda called Sheldon and finally agreed to stop seeing him. She said she would come over so they could exchange some things they had given each other. It didn't take long before the situation badly deteriorated. Sheldon says Rhonda began ripping up pictures and throwing things. Sheldon's parents were out, so he called Mary Haywood to come over and try to calm down Rhonda.

"When I got there, the young lady was beating on him," Haywood recalls. "She was tearing things up. I said, 'Baby, why are you doing this? This isn't your property.' But she didn't care. She said she was going to get him back."

Haywood quieted down Rhonda and Sheldon and left. But when Sheldon's father got home, Sheldon told Rhonda she had to leave.

To finish talking with Rhonda, Sheldon followed her to Haywood's house, but only wound up in another ugly fight. "It was like hand-to-hand combat," says Haywood's son, Wayne. Sheldon says Rhonda pushed him onto a bed and began swinging at him. "She swung at me again and hit me in the face," Sheldon recalls. "I swung back and hit her on the cheek."

Sheldon ran out the back door while "Rhonda ran through the kitchen and opened a drawer and pulled out a butcher knife," says Mary Haywood. "I tried to restrain her. She broke away and ran out the front door with the knife, and I called the police."

When the police arrived, Rhonda was gone. She had run over to Sheldon's house and began screaming and banging on the windows. Sheldon called the police to report the disturbance and that his ex-girlfriend had punched him in the face. Meanwhile, his father was at the front door.

"She had a wooden stake in her hand, and I told her if she threw it I was going to whup her ass," says Sheron Pearl. "She cursed and patted her ass at me. I told her she better get off my property before I hurt her."

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