Missouri prosecutor to seek special prosecutor in teen rape case
POSTED: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 6:52pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 6:53pm
CNN — MARYVILLE, Missouri (CNN) -- A Missouri prosecutor who dropped a rape case will ask the court to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an independent review of the case and look at possibly refiling charges, Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert L. Rice said Wednesday.
Rice said he was making the court request after CNN aired interviews this week with the girl who was allegedly raped at age 14 and her mother, both of whom denied refusing to cooperate with prosecutors.
At a news conference outside the courthouse, Rice also cited a recent Kansas City Star article questioning the integrity of the investigation, he said.
It will be up to a judge to appoint a special prosecutor, he added.
"The public trust in our criminal justice system must be upheld at all times," Rice told reporters.
Rice said witnesses in the case invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to cooperate. Rice added that he couldn't provide reporters with court documents showing the witnesses' refusal to cooperate because those records are closed.
Rice said he was upset that his decision was called into question in media accounts.
"My name was dragged through the mud in that article, and I don't appreciate that," he said. Referring specifically to the Kansas Star article, he added: "The way the article was written inflamed passions."
The case attracted controversy because the accused was a high school football player and senior who is from a prominent local political family.
Rice spoke with reporters a day after Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder made a public appeal for a grand jury investigation into the case.
City of Maryville officials held a separate news conference after Rice's event and asserted that they had nothing to do with the county prosecutor's earlier decision to drop charges.
The city, however, has been targeted with cyberthreats in the wake of publicity about the case, and public safety patrols have since been increased, City Manager Greg McDanel told reporters.
"We've been stunned by the nature of cyberthreats" against the city in general, he said. "In recent weeks, the city has received a great deal of negative attention.
"It's detrimental to the lives and livelihood of the residents of Maryville," McDanel added.
There's been a public "misconception" that the city was involved in the investigation, he said. "The city of Maryville was not involved ... in any way."
Rice has said he dropped a sexual assault charge last year against the boy because the alleged victim and her relatives refused to cooperate. A charge against the boy's friend who was accused of recording part of the incident on an iPhone was also discontinued. The iPhone video was deleted the night of the alleged assault and wasn't retrievable, Rice said Wednesday.
The mother of the girl, however, wants the case reopened.
The alleged victim, Daisy Coleman, told CNN this week that she believes the charges were dropped against Matthew Barnett, then 17, because his grandfather is a former state legislator. That relative, Rex Barnett, told CNN Wednesday he had "absolutely" no role in the prosecutor's decision.
CNN does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual assault but has done so in this case because Daisy and her mother, Melinda Coleman, have chosen to go public. Daisy's friend, Paige, who says she was raped by a different boy that same night in 2012, also agreed to go public. Paige's case was settled in juvenile court.
Rex Barnett, a former Republican state representative who is a retired 32-year veteran officer of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said he made a deliberate decision to avoid local police and prosecutors during the investigation because of his political standing.
"As long as I've been in politics and law enforcement, I knew that if this thing drug on long, I would be pulled into it somewhere, I think, just for political reasons," Barnett told CNN. "So I made it a point not to talk to the prosecuting attorney, to the sheriff, to any of the witnesses directly or indirectly, and I stuck to that. And I'm glad I did."
He said the case was dropped "because of a lack of testimony from the complainants. And without that, the prosecuting attorney has no case."
The ongoing controversy has been hard on his family, he said. "It's been tough," he said. "I mean, we thought it was over a year and a half ago, and to my knowledge, there has been no change, nothing more evidentiary has come up that I know of.
"But (the case has) resurfaced, and I'm not sure why," he added.
Barnett, also a deacon in the First Baptist Church, was first elected to the Missouri General Assembly in 1994. He served four terms until 2002, the Kansas City Star said.
The charges against Matt Barnett were dropped two months after the alleged January 8, 2012, incident. Most recently, however, the case received attention last weekend in a story by The Kansas City Star, which then garnered a wider audience in social media.
Rice said in a recent statement that "there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The State's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege to not testify," he added.
Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White told CNN that his office and the prosecuting attorney had been ready to prosecute but did not move forward because the victim and her family refused to cooperate.
"The only people's stories that have been inconsistent throughout this whole thing are the Colemans' -- are the victims in this case -- and I don't know why that is," White said.
Reacting to the lieutenant governor's call for a grand jury review, the sheriff said that his office handled the case "flawlessly."
In an interview with CNN, White described the elder Barnett as someone he had known for more than 30 years. "He's a man that I do consider to be a friend," the sheriff said. But he described as "absolutely shameful" any suggestion that Barnett would have tried to influence the investigation into his grandson.
Melinda Coleman said White had initially told her that other girls had come forward to accuse the same group of boys of similar conduct but changed his story. "He said that they were all liars. I digitally recorded him saying they were all liars and that they just wanted to crucify those poor, innocent boys.
"So my concern is what is it going to take for them to do something here? Is one of these girls going to have to die?" the mother said.
In the weeks that followed her daughter's alleged assault, Coleman said her children received threats. She was also fired from her job as a veterinarian at a clinic. Daughter Daisy is now 16.
The Colemans have since moved from the 12,000-resident town in northwest Missouri, about 100 miles north of Kansas City.
In April, their house in Maryville -- which had been vacant and for sale -- burned. The state fire marshal said that "due to the unsafe nature of the structure, a detailed examination could not be conducted and this fire loss is being listed as undetermined."
A Facebook page campaign called "Justice for Daisy" says a public rally is scheduled for Tuesday at the Nodaway County Courthouse. Protesters will carry daisies in their hands.
"We will increase patrols and do everything in our power to protect our citizens," McDanel said of the protest. "We will remain on high alert."