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Two rape victims who won a $1 million judgment against the Garland apartment complex where they were attacked watched that money disappear last week when an appeals court overturned the jury verdict.
Jared Alan Wade (Dallas County Jail)
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed the trial court’s ruling, in which jurors decided the leasing company should have known about the danger a faulty window posed, and that it failed to protect the woman renting the apartment from that danger.
With the new ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorney Lin McCraw said his clients have been “violated again — this time, by politics.”
Tracy Childers and Mary Trout, who filed the lawsuit against AVPM Corp., were sexually assaulted in June 2014 after a man broke through Childers’ window at Stoneleigh Place Apartments in Garland.
The Dallas Morning News doesn’t typically name victims of sexual assault, but both women agreed to be named in this story.
Their attacker, Jared Alan Wade, was convicted in October 2014 on multiple counts of sexual assault.
An affidavit for his arrest warrant said the two women awoke to find Wade standing in their room before he assaulted them. In the days after the attack, Wade threatened to kill Childers and Trout if they went to police.
Wade remains locked up at a prison outside Wichita Falls, where he won’t be eligible for parole until 2039.
Months before the attack, Childers had moved into the apartment in Garland and performed a walk-through inspection, noting needed repairs. On a copy of the inspection inventory sheet, she wrote, “one window by fireplace won’t close properly.” The complex said it fixed it shortly after that.
But the latch wasn’t fixed properly, Childers and Trout said in their lawsuit, and that allowed Wade to enter the apartment.
“The landlord undertook this and needed to fix it to code, and they didn’t,” McCraw said. “As a result, my people were hurt.”
An attorney for the property management company said the latch was fixed properly, adding that there were two latches on the window.
“One latch in their estimation was not fixed and did not work, therefore this fellow could open the window from the outside,” attorney Gordon Wright said. “If one latch were done, that should’ve been more than enough to hold the window.”
McCraw said he spoke with the former employee at the apartment who fixed the latch, and he told the lawyer it was only a “halfway fix.”
Texas property code requires that exterior windows have working locks on them, like it requires doors to have locks. That’s for good reason, McCraw said.
“Any idiot knows that if you don’t have windows that lock from the inside, people from the outside are going to come in. Those requirements are enshrined in our laws already,” he said.
The apartment company asked for the appeals court to revisit the case, as it said there was no evidence to show that the apartment complex could have foreseen the criminal acts, so there was no evidence that the complex had breached its duty to Childers and Trout.
The court sided with the apartment company, saying “the complete absence of evidence to show foreseeability in a negligence case is the type of exceptional circumstance requiring the verdict be overturned.”
Childers and McCraw said they thought politics played a factor in the appeals court’s decision to reverse the trial court’s ruling.
“The problem, of course, is the makeup of our court is a very conservative court,” where consumers and tenants often don’t get a fair shake against companies and landlords, McCraw said.
Another factor Childers said could have worked against them: Childers and Trout are lesbians, who were in a relationship at the time of the attack. They’re not together anymore, but remain best friends, Childers said.
“Bible Belt red state and LGBT — they don’t mix well,” Childers said. “We can’t help but think that our being gay played a part in their idiotic decision.”
A Court of Appeals spokeswoman said the judge who wrote the opinion, Justice Molly Francis, wouldn’t be able to comment on a case that’s still pending in the courts.
Childers said she felt “let down” by the court’s decision, especially as she continues to deal with the aftermath of the 2014 assault. She had a metal plate inserted in her face after the attack and will deal with double vision for the rest of her life, she said.
McCraw said he plans to file a motion for a rehearing. If that’s denied, they’ll ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision, though the Supreme Court only looks at a small number of those requests each year.