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Wednesday
Oct162013

Special Prosecutor Requested in Missouri Teen Rape Case

CNN(NODAWAY COUNTY, Mo.) -- A Missouri prosecutor has asked that a special prosecutor now look into the case of a teenager accused of plying 14-year-old Daisy Coleman with alcohol and then sexually assaulting her. The charges had been initially dropped, enraging first the alleged victim's mother and later top state officials.

The dispute has been simmering since July 2012 when Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice dropped sexual assault charges against Maryville senior high school student Matthew Barnett. He and another teenager allegedly raped Daisy Coleman, 14, and her friend in January 2012.

Barnett does not deny having sex with Coleman, but denies she was incapacitated at the time.

That decision to not prosecute prompted a sharp public dispute between law enforcement and the girl's mother, Melinda Coleman, who has accused investigators of lying.

On Wednesday, Rice announced that he was asking for a special prosecutor because of publicity and recent media stories that questioned the integrity of Nodaway County's justice system.

This week, state officials had entered the dispute.

"The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look," Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said in a statement Tuesday. He suggested that the U.S. Circuit Court convene a grand jury to review the case and determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones called on the state's attorney general, Chris Koster, to intervene, something Koster had been reluctant to do earlier this year when the Coleman family petitioned him to reopen the case.

Melinda Coleman says she doesn't know why the prosecutor dropped charges against the boys who allegedly sexually assaulted her daughter and her daughter's 13-year-old friend, and her outspoken anger has spawned a public argument with police and prosecutor.

"There was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The state's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege to not testify," a statement from the Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney's office said.

Sheriff Darren White told ABC News, "Both families did not cooperate, the 13-year-old friend and Coleman. The two families did everything together."

"She wants to play the poor victim in this, but [Mrs. Coleman] certainly has issues of her own," the sheriff said. "Everyone in law enforcement and criminal justice bent over backwards to make this happen, but she absolutely destroyed the case."

The sheriff's comment that the girls and their families refused to cooperate infuriated Melinda Coleman.

"He's lying and I don't know why he's lying, but it's a lie. It's not true," she told ABC News. "I have the initial police report, the girls did the full interview. They did the rape kit and they did do the exam."

Coleman claims that there was also video of the assault on her daughter taken by one of the boys on a cellphone and she claims that the video was shown among students.

The sheriff and Barnett's lawyer said the boy readily admitted to having sex with Daisy Coleman.

"[The boys] admitted to their participation in everything that happened that evening. They admitted that they had sex, but in their mind, they didn't necessarily think they did anything wrong," White told ABC News.

"In the state of Missouri, it is not illegal for a 17-year-old to have sex with a 14-year-old, but it is illegal for someone to have sex with someone who was incapacitated. And that's where the crime occurred," he said.

White would not discuss the case of the 13-year-old girl because juvenile cases are not public.

The sheriff also said the video was quickly deleted from the cellphone and denied that it was shared among other teens.

The alleged assault occurred on the night of Jan. 8, 2012. Daisy and her younger friend were having a sleepover, staying up late and watching scary movies. Coleman had checked on the girls right before she went to sleep around midnight and then went back to her room across the hallway.

What Coleman didn't know was that Daisy and her friend had allegedly been receiving text messages that night from her older brother's friends, asking the pair to sneak out of the Coleman home and come to Matthew Barnett's house.

Daisy and her friend sneaked out through her window at 1 a.m. and met a car waiting to pick them up and take them to Barnett's home, Melinda Coleman claims.

Coleman tells ABC News that her daughter doesn't remember much of the night, but she describes sneaking into Barnett's basement through a window with her friend. There were five boys at the home, including Barnett, she said.

One of the boys took Daisy's friend into a bedroom while they seated Daisy on the couch and gave her a few sips of a clear alcoholic liquid, she said. They allegedly convinced her to chug a cup of the alcohol.

The next memory that Daisy has is that of waking up in her front lawn about 5 a.m.

Coleman says she found her daughter dumped in the middle of their front lawn, unconscious, with only a T-shirt and sweatpants on in 22-degree weather. Her hair was frozen and her feet were developing frostbite, she said.

Immediately concerned about getting Daisy's frozen body warmer, Coleman drew a lukewarm bath to slowly elevate her daughter's temperature. But as Coleman undressed her daughter, she quickly realized that something far worse was wrong with Daisy.

Daisy's 13-year-old friend had been found back inside the house, laying in Daisy's bed, also unable to talk about what had happened to the pair or why Daisy was outside, Coleman said.

Both girls were rushed to the hospital, where it was confirmed that Daisy and her friend had been sexually assaulted.

Police and sexual assault investigators met the teens at the hospital when they conducted interviews with the girls and filled out legal paperwork.

White told ABC News that, "within four hours of receiving the initial call, the sheriff had obtained and executed a search warrant and had rounded up all of the young men involved and interviewed them."

Bob Sundell, a lawyer for Barnett, said in a statement that Barnett, "cooperated with the investigation and freely admitted to the sexual encounter. While many may find Mr. Barnett's behavior reprehensible, the legal issue was whether a crime was committed."

Sundell said that the initial charge of sexual assault of an incapacitated person was dropped when he tried to depose Daisy, and the family invoked the Fifth Amendment. Barnett was then charged with the misdemeanor count of child endangerment for allegedly dumping Daily in the yard during the frigid night.

"This time the complaining witness did testify with numerous inconsistencies and changes to previous statements," Sundell said in a statement. "When the alleged victim's mother was questioned about these changes, she freely admitted that her daughter does not always tell the truth."

That prompted dismissal of the misdemeanor count, the lawyer said.

He said that the Barnett family has received numerous threats since the allegations went public.

Immediately after the boys were charged, the Coleman family said they began to receive backlash from the community.

"They were mostly provoking my daughter, saying that she was going to get what she deserved and that they were going to show her what rape was really like," said Coleman. "Another mother called me and said, You need to look at Twitter because she said some boys were threatening to beat your son with a baseball bat."

Fearing for her children's safety, Coleman said she moved her family out of town and shortly after that her house burned down. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio