Pressure continued to gather against a northwestern Missouri prosecutor after top state officials called for the state attorney general to intervene and for a grand jury to investigate the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in the small town of Maryville.
And in separate interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the girl’s mother and the county sheriff disagreed with each other on basic facts about the handling of the case, while the county prosecutor declined to discuss his part in the investigation.
Nodaway County has been at the center of a runaway controversy as a result of county prosecutor Robert Rice’s decision to drop sexual assault and sexual exploitation charges against two former high school football players, both 17 at the time of the incident.
One boy, identified as Matthew Barnett, was accused of raping Daisy Coleman, then 14, who had consumed alcohol at his home late one night in January 2012. The other boy, Jordan Zech, allegedly videotaped part of the act.
Daisy was left on the front lawn of her home in freezing weather, lightly clothed.
Since the Kansas City Star published an explosive report on Daisy’s ordeal over the weekend, the town of 12,000 has been besieged by reporters and the hacking collective Anonymous, which has targeted key officials for harassment as well as some of the suspects’ friends and family.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and House Speaker Tim Jones on Tuesday added their voices to the chorus of critics. Questions over why the case wasn’t prosecuted, Kinder said in a statement, “will fester and taint the reputation of our state for delivering impartial justice to all.”
Kinder called on Atty. Gen. Chris Koster and prosecutor Rice to join him in asking the U.S. Circuit Court to convene a grand jury to review the case and determine whether criminal charges should be filed. “The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look,” he said.
Jones, like Kinder, a Republican, went further and urged Koster to intervene. The attorney general’s office has previously declined to do so, saying it did not have the authority.
Like the rape case that made Steubenville, Ohio, a household name, the Maryville case has forced local officials and small-town families to explain themselves in the court of national public opinion.
Since the story caught national attention, Rice has become a target for the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which tweeted out his office’s number to more than a million followers Tuesday, and also called for a demonstration in front of the Nodaway County courthouse on Oct. 22.
A representative from Rice’s office told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that the prosecutor was not giving interviews or making any comments about the case, beyond a statement sent to the media. The statement said it had been determined there was insufficient evidence to prove a case against the suspects beyond a reasonable doubt. “The state’s witnesses refused to cooperate, and invoked their 5th Amendment privilege to not testify,” the statement said.
The Coleman family has denied that anyone ever invoked their right not to testify or refused to answer questions, but County Sheriff Darren White also said witnesses’ failure to cooperate had hampered the investigation.
“The prosecutor went after this with a fervor,” White told The Times. “It was only when the victims refused to cooperate and assist in this case that he ultimately had to drop the case.”
Before the charges were dropped, White said, Daisy twice invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions about the alleged rape. A 13-year-old girl who also was allegedly raped during the same incident “never showed up any time,” White said.
Daisy Coleman appeared Tuesday on CNN with her mother, who denied any refusal to cooperate. “We did not refuse to testify with the felony case, we were not given any information about it, and we were not asked to testify,” she said.
(The Times does not normally name victims of sexual assault, but is naming the elder girl because she has openly identified herself and publicized her case.)
In an interview with The Times, Daisy’s mother, Melinda Coleman, called both officials’ claims “a total lie.”
Coleman said the sexual assault and videotaping charges were dropped before her daughter ever gave a deposition about the alleged rape. She said her daughter never invoked her right not to incriminate herself--to the contrary, she said, Daisy refused to sign a document saying she planned to invoke her 5th Amendment right.
She said her daughter was facing recriminations for coming forward. A college-age sister of one of the five boys in the home where the rapes allegedly occurred had started a Twitter campaign, Coleman said, which was aimed at humiliating her daughter. A victim’s advocate, she said, expressed concern that Daisy would get “torn apart” by pushing ahead with the case.
Still, she said, both she and her daughter decided to push forward.
Coleman said her daughter testified at a June 2012 deposition on a separate charge unrelated to the rape case, but the prosecutor, she said, spent two hours grilling the mother not about the incident, but about a woman who had publicly criticized the prosecutor’s handling of the case.
“I don’t remember him asking anything about the case at all,” Coleman said, adding that at one point Rice told her daughter she was “lying.”
“This is the prosecuting attorney who was supposed to be protecting us, and he was chiming in with the defense attorney toward my daughter,” Coleman said.
Coleman vigorously disputed Sheriff White’s assertion that she had refused to answer questions from fire investigators about a fire that destroyed the family’s home in Maryville after they had moved away. (The cause has not been determined.)
Coleman said that officials from the city of Maryville, Nodaway County and the Missouri State Highway Patrol came to oversee the scene of the blaze.
“I called Highway Patrol, because I was honestly afraid of the sheriff and what they might do, so I wanted to have someone else there,” Coleman said. “I talked to all of them, answered questions from all of them, and the fire chief as well, and I called my insurance company for an additional forensic specialist to look at it.”
Coleman said she welcomed the possibility of a new look at the case, though she said she felt a little overwhelmed.
“They [local officials] said it over and over again that it could never be reopened,” she said. “So now I don’t know ... what could really happen legally at this point.”
White, meanwhile, had his own criticism for the hacker group Anonymous, saying that authorities had detected a “pretty credible threat” that someone had attempted to infiltrate the Sheriff’s Department’s computer server, forcing the department to temporarily take it down.
“They are truly a bunch of cowards, hiding behind--even their name, ‘Anonymous.’ What do you do with people like that?” he said. “They all need to get jobs and quit living with their parents.”