Missouri officials call for grand jury in Maryville rape case

High-ranking government officials are calling for a new investigation into a sexual-assault case in northwest Missouri that’s drawn international attention.

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Republican House Speaker Tim Jones have called on the state’s attorney general and Nordaway County’s prosecuting attorney to reopen the case of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman and a 13-year-old friend, who say they were sexually assaulted by two Maryville High School football players.

Jones has called on Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, to reconsider his earlier position that he lacked the authority to intervene unless the county prosecutor asked.

The case drew widespread attention, including demands to reopen the investigation by the hacktivist group Anonymous, following an in-depth report published Sunday in The Kansas City Star.

Coleman, who came forward with her mother to publicly discuss the case, and her friend said they had been drinking with two 17-year-old boys and a 15-year-old boy in January 2012.

The two older boys admitted to having sex with the girls, although they claim it was consensual, and to dumping Coleman partially clothed onto her lawn in freezing cold weather.

Matthew Barnett was later charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child and Jordan Zech was charged with exploitation of a minor for allegedly recording cell phone video of one of the sexual encounters. The 15-year-old was charged in juvenile court.

But Prosecutor Bob Rice dropped felony charges against the football players in March 2012, claiming insufficient evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He also claimed the girls refused to cooperate and invoked their Fifth Amendment right to decline to testify.

The county sheriff, Darren White, said his office had handled the investigation “flawlessly,” although he can be heard in a recorded phone conversation with Coleman’s mother saying that investigators hadn’t been able to pull information from a cell phone involved in the case.

A police report shows that pictures, videos and text messages between the two minors had been recovered from the phone, but White said he never personally saw that evidence.

The 13-year-old girl’s mother said Tuesday night that she and her daughter were not asked to provide a deposition or testify in the case before Rice dropped the felony charges.

Melinda Coleman also said she and her daughter cooperated with investigators before the charges were dropped.

The Coleman family, which hadn’t lived in Maryville for very long, said they were harassed by other residents after the charges were dropped, and they eventually moved to Albany, Missouri.

Their home in Maryville was burned to the ground in April while they were trying to sell it, and no cause for the fire has been determined.

An attorney for Barnett, whose grandfather, Rex Barnett, is a Republican state representative, accused the Colemans of trying the case in the court of public opinion “since a legal conviction is not possible.”

Zech’s attorney declined comment.

The lieutenant governor said facts included in the newspaper report raise new questions that beg for further investigation.

“These questions will fester and taint the reputation of our state for delivering impartial justice to all,” Kinder said. “The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look.”

The lieutenant governor urged the attorney general and the county prosecutor to call for a grand jury to review the case.

The House Speaker said he thought Koster, who’s expected to run for governor next year, had the authority to intervene in the case.

Kinder, a Republican, denied that politics had motivated his decision to involve himself in the case, nothing that Nordaway County’s prosecutor was also a GOP member.

“Look, you’re going to get criticized no matter what you do, and you’ll get criticized for doing nothing, so I don’t worry about that,” Kinder said.

Maryville police, which did not handle the rape investigation, said they would increase patrols to protect those who were involved in the case now that it’s drawn additional scrutiny.

[Image via YouTube]