No rape charges will be filed against a former high school football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Maryville, Mo., girl, but the man pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment Thursday, a special prosecutor said.
Matthew Barnett, now 19, accepted a plea deal at the Nodaway County courthouse, ending a case that had become an embarrassment to Missouri authorities.
Barnett was accused of raping Maryville teen Daisy Coleman while she was drunk, then leaving her, freezing, on her mother’s doorstep in January 2012.
The case came to national prominence in October after the Kansas City Star published an article about Daisy’s accusations and raised questions about why Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice had dropped charges against Barnett.
Rice asked a local judge to appoint a special prosecutor to reexamine the case, and Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker took over.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse in Maryville on Thursday, Peters Baker said there was “insufficient evidence” to prove Barnett had raped Daisy.
“Today, Mr. Barnett was held accountable for his actions,” Peters Baker said, adding that Daisy and her mother, Melinda Coleman, had worked closely with her on the case and that Barnett’s attorneys agreed to the deal after a month of negotiations.
Barnett received two years’ probation for second-degree child endangerment. He was barred from contacting the Coleman family and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and to pay $1,800 in restitution. He apologized in person to Peters Baker on Thursday, who said she would relay the apology to Daisy.
Barnett’s attorney, J.R. Hobbs, told reporters that his client “truly regrets” the incident, but added that the misdemeanor charge for leaving Daisy on a freezing porch “accurately reflects” the extent of the criminal actions that occurred that night.
Daisy did not appear at the courthouse. She was reportedly still hospitalized after a suicide attempt Sunday, which followed recent bullying, her mother said in a Facebook post this week.
In a statement delivered through Peters Baker, Daisy thanked her supporters and said she was glad Barnett “took responsibility” by pleading guilty.
The Times does not usually identify sexual assault victims but has done so in this case because the girl stepped forward last year.
After Daisy went public with her case and gave interviews about her allegations, she became a household name among some feminists and activists who had closely watched the case. Daisy had also written an essay for the website xoJane, which was widely shared over the Internet.
On Thursday, Peters Baker said she would not use Daisy’s name publicly, saying she hoped to restore Daisy’s anonymity. She urged reporters to leave the teenager alone.
“I would implore each of you to give this young victim her opportunity to heal, her opportunity to create a new narrative for herself,” Peters Baker told reporters.
A friend of Barnett’s, Jordan Zech, was not charged. He had been accused of making a cellphone video of the incident, but one was never found.
Peters Baker said she didn’t anticipate filing further charges. “The case is closed,” she said.
But she added that Barnett’s misdemeanor conviction was on his permanent record.