Public pressure and a media firestorm have prompted officials in Maryville, Missouri to reopen a controversial sexual assault case that has captivated the attention of people far beyond the small Midwestern town in recent days.
Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that he has appointed an official to conduct an independent review of the facts surrounding the case of Daisy Coleman, a former Maryville resident who accused a local football star of raping her almost two years ago.
Coleman, then only 14, said 17-year-old Matthew Barnett sexually assaulted her in his basement in January 2012 while other Maryville high school students watched on and even recorded the ordeal. Barnett told investigators that the incident was consensual – a claim the Coleman family disputes. Authorities ultimately dropped all charges in the case after the accuser allegedly refused to testify.
A 4,000 word article in the Kansas City Star published last weekend has since gone viral and propelled the story outside of Maryville and into the mainstream media. Activists within the Anonymous movement have started a campaign to raise awareness of Coleman’s case, and the Missouri lieutenant governor and a local lawmaker have both issued statements urging Rice to re-open the case.
Now, less than a week after the Star article started to circulate, Rice has suggested that a new probe will begin soon.
During his remarks on Wednesday outside the Nodaway County District Courthouse, Rice specifically said the media coverage that has caused the story to gain international attention this week made him take action. According to the prosecutor, however, a case was aborted earlier because of a lack of cooperation on the part of the Coleman.
“Because last night the witnesses went on a program on CNN and announced that they were willing to testify and participate in the prosecution of the case. Until that time, they never told me they had changed their mind,” Rice said.
The attorney’s office had said previously in an official statement that "There was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” and that “The state's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege to not testify.”
"He's lying and I don't know why he's lying, but it's a lie. It's not true," mother Melinda Coleman told ABC News of Rice this week. "I have the initial police report, the girls did the full interview. They did the rape kit and they did do the exam."
The Associated Press reported that the Nodaway County judge will appoint the special prosecutor, but likely not until next week when the justice returns to town. Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement to AP on Thursday that his office would assist the county and trusted the judge would "make the decision in the best interests of the families."
Weighing in on his decision to appoint a special prosecutor, Rice said, “The public trust in our criminal justice system must be upheld at all times.”
That trust has been questioned in recent days amid media reports about the Coleman case and questions concerning possible political ties involving the accused rapist and a long-time area lawmaker. Matthew Barnett has been described as being well-connected in the local community, especially given the three-plus-decades that one family member spent in the Missouri House of Representatives.
A town of roughly 12,000, Maryville has come under attack since last weekend due largely to the sheer virality of Coleman’s story. The hacktivist movement Anonymous plans to protest outside the Nodaway County Courthouse next week, and the media’s willingness to keep the nearly two-year-old incident in the spotlight has prompted a second victim – only 13 at the time – to speak up. The second alleged victim has since spoken to the media and has been identified as Paige Borlan. According to a local Fox affiliate, her case was settled in juvenile court.