Around 4 p.m. yesterday, a Dallas County grand jury declined to indict 19-year-old Ryan Romo, who was accused of raping a younger fellow student in the back of his Chevy Tahoe following a concert in late October.
At a sparsely attended press conference this afternoon, the Romo family's civil attorney, Mark Senter, read from a prepared statement, saying the family is "gratified and relieved to have this horrible nightmare finally behind us." Later on, during a Q&A session with reporters, Senter called Romo's experience "akin" to that of students in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
"We are happy that -- in the end -- truth and justice prevailed in the face of what was an absurdly false allegation," Senter continued (the full text of the statement is reprinted below). The family thanked their supporters for the "overwhelming support" they have received, adding, "We will never forget those who refused to jump to conclusions and waited for the truth to come out."
Senter is a civil attorney for the Romo family; Romo's criminal attorney, Reed Prospere, was not present at the press conference. After he finished reading from the statement, Senter took questions, the first of which dealt with a polygraph test that Romo took, the results of which were presented to the grand jury. The test, he said, "went into great detail about what went on in that backseat," including "whether there was consent or not consent."
In response to questions, Senter added later that Romo was "cross-examined for four hours on the exact issues of consent," what was said and what was done in the Tahoe. "He gave no negative answers and passed with flying colors."
The attorney said he had "no idea" what evidence University Park police "did or did not have" to arrest Romo, who he said was cuffed on his front lawn. "I believe the protocol is to get both sides of the story," Senter added.
Senter said that although he is "not an OB GYN," the rape exam performed on the girl by sexual assault examiners at Medical Center of Plano doesn't necessarily indicate rape. "Are you able to opine to medical certainty between forceful consensual sex and rape?" he asked.
"Was the young lady a virgin?" one of the reporters asked.
"I have no idea," Senter replied, after a moment.
The attorney also said that Romo has been finishing his studies at home but is still a Highland Park student. "Our hope is that he'll be allowed to re-enroll," he said, adding that the teen "has basically been in solitary confinement for several months."
But the stigma, Senter said, will linger. "His mugshot's all over the Internet."
There were several questions from the assembled reporters about whether the accusation would harm Romo's chances of being recruited to a D1 school.
"He's signable again," Senter replied. "This is clearly a big recruiting season." That said, he added, the allegation has set him back "unbelievably."
"It's akin to the kids who were students in New Orleans when Katrina came through," the attorney said.
A reporter asked if Senter was accusing the girl of "not telling the truth."
"The facts are he passed a polygraph," Senter said. "It appears that someone may be telling the truth and someone may not be." Later, he clarified that he believes "her version of what transpired in the police report is not accurate."
Senter wouldn't say definitively whether the family plans to sue the accuser's family, U.P. police, the D.A.'s office, or anybody else. He said the family is "still trying to heal," and "haven't gotten around" to deciding whether they'll sue. The purpose of the press conference, he added, was "not to address civil litigation."
Senter said that in the months between his arrest and the grand jury hearing, Romo "become a recluse," terrified that he would be "misconstrued" if he went out. When he heard the news of his non-indictment, the attorney said, "it was like a kid getting out of final exams. He's just glad it was over."
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Full Statement From Attorney Mark S. Senter and the Romo Family:
The Romo family is gratified and relieved to finally have this horrible nightmare behind us. We are happy that -- in the end -- truth and justice prevailed in the face of what was an absurdly false allegation.
In this terrible process, we learned that between 90 to 95% of all cases presented to the Grand Jury result in indictment and criminal charges. Instead, in this case, Ryan has been cleared and for that we are truly grateful to the grand jurors who considered the evidence presented.
Only now, can we begin the process of putting our lives back together. As a family, we would like to express our sincere appreciation for the overwhelming support that we received from friends, acquaintances, and even people we did not know that we encountered in our immediate community and throughout North Texas. We will never forget those who refused to jump to conclusions and waited for the truth to come out."