The Nodaway County prosecutor said he’s asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor in a sexual assault case that’s attracted international attention.
Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice said Wednesday that he’d decided to reopen the investigation after witnesses in the case said this week they would cooperate.
“Until that time,” Rice said Wednesday, “the witnesses never told me they were willing to cooperate and testify after they invoked their Fifth Amendment right in a deposition under oath.”
However, the prosecutor’s comments don’t match up with statements made by Melinda Coleman, the mother of one alleged victim, in a lengthy Kansas City Star article published Sunday.
Coleman told the newspaper and said in subsequent media appearances that she’d willingly spoken to authorities until Rice dropped the two most serious felony charges in March 2012, two months after the teenage suspects were charged.
Matthew Barnett, the grandson of a former Republican state lawmaker and Baptist church deacon, and his friend Jordan Zech were initially charged in connection with the sexual assault of Daisy Coleman, then 14, and her 13-year-old friend.
Both were 17-year-old football players at the time.
A 15-year-old boy was charged in juvenile court with having nonconsensual sex with the younger girl and Zech was accused of recording video of an assault.
The girls told investigators they had been drinking before meeting up with the boys and continued to drink, and the boys were accused of dumping Coleman partially clothed and unconscious outside her house in freezing cold weather.
Barnett claims the encounter was consensual, although county law enforcement officers say they’ve got audio and video confessions in the case.
The prosecutor said smartphone video of the encounter had been erased and could not be retrieved by forensics experts at a state crime lab.
Rice dropped the felony charges after claiming he lacked evidence to obtain a conviction, and he denied Wednesday that political pressure had influenced his decision.
Barnett’s grandfather, Rex Barnett, also denied using his political influence in the case.
“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,” said the retired 32-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “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.”
But Melinda Coleman says a friend who has local political ties told her the case would be dropped because favors were being called in.
Melinda Coleman told The Star she was pleased the case would be reexamined.
“At least we’re getting a fair shot, (and) at least our story’s getting heard and not just swept under the rug,” she told the newspaper.
Rice said the Colemans refused to testify under oath to a court reporter, although he said he couldn’t share those documents because the case remains closed and they are sealed.
He declined to say when the deposition had taken place or whether the family’s invocation of their Fifth Amendment rights happened before the felony charges were dropped.
The prosecutor said his office made sure the Colemans understood that the case would be dismissed if they declined to testify.
But a letter written to Rice by Coleman’s attorney a week after the charges had been dropped claims the prosecutor had not returned multiple phone calls to explain his decision to the alleged victim and her representatives.
Video broadcast Oct. 16, 2013, on WDAF-TV: