MARYVILLE, Mo. — Nodaway County officials are standing behind their decision not to prosecute a now nationally known alleged rape case, due to what they say was a lack of victim cooperation.
The incident happened in January 2012, when 14-year-old Daisy Coleman said she was raped by Matthew Barnett, who was 17 at the time, and left drunk on her front porch in freezing weather. She and her 13-year-old friend, who also said she was raped that night, reported the incident to police.
A day later, the sheriff had arrested Mr. Barnett and an unnamed 15-year-old, each on one count of sexual assault, along with 17-year-old Jordan Zech, for allegedly recording the assault on his iPhone. Mr. Barnett also was charged with child endangerment.
Despite what the sheriff considered an open-and-shut case, the charges against Mr. Barnett and Mr. Zech were dropped a few weeks later. The 15-year-old was convicted of his crime in juvenile court and was forced to register as a sex offender. Court records for that case, which include his identity, have been sealed because of his age.
The story has gone viral since The Kansas City Star reported the case on Sunday. Media outlets across the nation, including CNN and the Washington Post, have relayed the Colemans’ story, who claim they were driven out of town by Maryville residents for smearing the boys’ reputations. They also claim the charges were dropped because Mr. Barnett is the grandson of former state Rep. Rex Barnett, who left the House in 2002, and because he was a star athlete.
However, according to News-Press archives, Matthew Barnett only saw play as a backup defensive lineman during his senior season, which already was completed when the charges were filed in January.
Sheriff Darren White said allegations of favoritism are simply not true. In fact, he said, attorneys were ready to move forward with prosecution when, during a deposition, the victim and her family invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Even though he was sure a crime occurred, with a lack of victim cooperation — and no video ever found — Mr. White said the case could not proceed.
“Why would the victim invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and not self-incriminate? That does not make any sense at all,” he said. “If you don’t want to go through the trial, don’t be angry when you don’t go through the trial.”
Robert Rice, the prosecuting attorney, declined an interview request despite comments he posted on media websites inviting anyone with questions or concerns to call or visit his office. He did, however, fax a statement to the media on Tuesday.
“The article recently published in The Kansas City Star did not include all the facts as to what transpired in a 2012 criminal case. There was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The state’s witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their 5th Amendment privilege to not testify,” he wrote.
“The personal attacks made against me are malicious, wrong, and never happened (sic).”
He added he is prohibited from commenting on closed cases.
A number listed for the Colemans at their new home in Albany, Mo., has been disconnected. However, they told CNN they were willing to cooperate with authorities back then, and they are now. They said they went public with their story to encourage Mr. Rice to reopen the case.
In an interview with the News-Press in March 2012, Melinda Coleman claimed the prosecutor failed to factor significant evidence in the case, including medical records and text messages. She also said the prosecutor did not wait for the results of a rape kit before dropping the charges.
Some of Missouri’s top-ranking Republican officials are calling on Attorney General Chris Koster to get involved in the case. But Mr. Koster’s office has said it has no legal authority to reopen the investigation.
House Speaker Tim Jones said Tuesday that he believes Mr. Koster does have authority to intervene in the case. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said Mr. Koster and the local prosecutor should ask a circuit court to convene a grand jury to review the evidence and decide whether to bring charges.
Mr. Kinder and Mr. Jones are both Republicans. Mr. Koster is a Democrat.
Outrage from the case has people on social media nationwide tweeting in support of Daisy, and calling for an investigation into Mr. Rice’s handling of the case. Those reports are backed by the Internet hacker group Anonymous, which recently brought attention to a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio. Internet users also are reaching out via social media, e-mail and phone to Rep. Barnett, as well as Nodaway County and Maryville city officials.
Greg McDanel, city manager of Maryville, said jurisdiction of this case falls solely under Nodaway County officials, and calls to his office and the Public Safety Department are futile.
“This was an unfortunate incident that has cast a shadow over the city of Maryville,” he said in a statement. “We hope those who have been critical of the city and the community will realize we are good people, with good values, and allow the justice system to run its course so we all can find a peaceful resolution.”
A Facebook group, “Justice For Daisy,” has organized a peaceful protest in support of the victim at 10 a.m. next Tuesday in front of the Nodaway County Courthouse.