Mo. teen rape case ignites social media firestorm

By Michael Winter, USA TODAY

Missouri officials are facing a firestorm of criticism and social media attacks over renewed interest in a 2012 case in which prosecutors dropped sexual assault charges against a prominent high school football player arrested forallegedly raping a drunken 14-year-old cheerleader and having it recorded on video.

Felony charges were also dropped against another 17-year-old senior in Maryville, Mo., who used a friend's iPhone to record a video clip of the grandson of Rex Barnett, a powerful former Republican state representatives, having sex with the girl.

Separately, 15-year-old admitted to having non-consensual sex with a 13-year-old friend of Coleman's early on Jan. 8, 2012, and served several months in juvenile detention.

About 100 miles north of Kansas City, Maryville is a small college town of 12,000 residents. It is home to Northwest Missouri State University and its Division II football powerhouse.

For many people, the case echoes the rape of a drunken 16-year-old Steubenville, Ohio, girl last year by high school football players. Last week, a grand jury investigating whether laws were broken during the probeindicted a school employee with interfering with a criminal matter.

This summer, Kansas City public radio station KCUR-FMreported details of the Missouri case and asked why the prosecution was dropped. But the case did not gain national prominence until Sunday, when The Kansas City Starpublished its investigation.

Monday, the alleged victim, Daisy Coleman, and her mother, Melinda, a veterinarian, went on CNN, calling for the case to be reopened.

It is USA TODAY's policy not to name rape victims or, in most cases, juvenile suspects. The Coleman family's decision to go on CNN, however, made the daughter's name public.

The hacker collective Anonymous launched an Internet blitz targeting Missouri officials, Barnett's grandson and his friends, and anonline petition urges Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, to investigate. On Twitter, #justice4Daisy was trending.

"If Maryville won't defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them," Anonymous said aYouTube video announcing #OpMaryville. "Mayor Jim Fall, your hands are dirty. Maryville, expect us." That YouTube video can be viewed below this story.

A protests is planned for Oct. 22 outside the Nodaway County Courthouse in Maryville.

Tuesday, Koster's office said it did not have the power to reopen the case, which was handled by the Nodaway County prosecutor.

"While we appreciate the concerns of those who have sent petitions to our office, the Attorney General's Office does not have the authority under the laws of the state of Missouri to review a prosecutor's discretionary decisions in particular cases," press secretary Nanci Gonder said in a statement sent to some media outlets.

"Charging decisions in criminal cases are exclusively within the discretion of elected county prosecutors in Missouri. With the exception of criminal authority to file charges in certain consumer fraud cases, the Attorney General is only authorized to prosecute criminal cases in Missouri when a local county prosecutor either requests our assistance or disqualifies himself or herself from a case and then only after special appointment by a circuit judge."

But Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, called for a grand jury, saying in a statement that he was "disappointed that the Attorney General would wash his hands of the matter through a brief statement by a spokesman."

"The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cryout that responsible authorities must take another look," he said, urging Koster and Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice ask for a grand jury "to make the final call on whether criminal charges should or should not be filed."

Rice said Tuesday that he could not comment on the facts of a closed case. He also criticized the K.C. Star report, claiming it "did not include all the facts as to what transpired in a 2012 criminal case."

The paper based its report on court filings and sealed documents to which Melinda Coleman allowed access.

"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," Ricesaid in a statement sent to the Northwest Missourian.

"The personal attacks made against me are malicious, wrong, and never happened."

Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White said everyone involved in the case "tried to do everything they could to find justice for these young girls." He blamed the Colemans for not cooperating.

"The family decided they didn't want to cooperate," hetold KQTV-TV. "They no longer wanted to participate. They absolutely refused to aid in their case in anyway."

He also assailed social media, which he said "is swamped with people that are ignorant to the facts."

Robert Sundell, an attorney who represented Barnett's grandson, said in a written statement to the Associated Press that while many may find his former client's behavior "reprehensible," the legal issue is whether a crime occurred, including whether the girl was "incapacitated during the encounter."

In addition, he pointed out that the two girls cited heir Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves during a May 2012 deposition -- two months after prosecutors dropped charges -- and offered "inconsistent" testimony during a July 2012 deposition.

AP summarizes the laws in question:
"Missouri has a law that criminalizes sexual intercourse involving a person under the age of 14. A provision for second-degree statutory rape makes it a crime for a person 21 or older to have sex with a person under the age of 17. A third provision makes it a crime for someone to have sex with another knowing that he does not have consent."

Sundell said his former client would not talk to the media.

In July, Daisy Coleman told her story to KCUR-FM. It begins:

"The first thing Daisy Coleman remembers is her surprise that she was still alive.

"'I was just like, I thought I was dead at first,' she said.

"An incoherent Coleman, then 14, crawled to the front door of her family's home in Maryville, Mo. It was a Sunday morning, Jan. 8, 2012, 5 a.m. Her younger brother, Tristin, and mother, Melinda, heard a thumping and at first thought it was their dogs trying to come in.

"Daisy Coleman had been outside about three hours, unconscious, in 30-degree temperatures. She wore no socks or shoes, just a T-shirt and sweatpants. Her hair was wet and frozen. She couldn't speak and only cried.

"'It almost sounded like somebody falling against the door,' said Melinda Coleman. 'I kept thinking, did she sleepwalk? And she had absolutely no idea.'"

The radio station alsoposted a timeline of events.

The Colemans now live in Albany, about 40 miles east of Maryville. They say they left as a result of harassment, bullying at school and social media attacks against the family.

In April, their empty, still-unsold house in Maryville burned to ground. The fire chief said the cause remains unknown.

Barnett's grandson is enrolled at the University of Central Missouri, his alma mater.

The case is being blown out of proportion, state Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, who represents Rex Barnett's former district,told the Missouri Digital News.

"It's making it sound like we as a community are not a good place to live," he said. "That is the farthest thing from the truth."


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment