MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A 14-year-old girl who says she was raped by an older boy from her Missouri high school could get another chance to bring the case to court when a special prosecutor reviews the allegations.
Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice, who faced intense criticism over his handling of the case, has asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to decide if new charges should be filed.
The girl’s mother, Melinda Coleman, claims justice was denied when Rice dropped felony charges in March 2012, two months after she says her daughter was plied with alcohol, raped, then dumped on the family’s front porch in sub-freezing temperatures. She said her daughter’s 13-year-old friend was raped by another boy the same evening.
Rice insists the investigation collapsed after the Colemans became uncooperative with investigators. Coleman says she and her daughter did cooperate and that investigators didn’t do enough to push the case forward and were forced to move from the small northwest Missouri town of Maryville after her family was harassed over the allegations.
The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual assault but is naming the Coleman and her daughter because they have been granting public interviews about the case. The AP is not naming the accused boys because there are no active charges against them.
A county judge is expected to appoint the special prosecutor, though the Nodaway County District Court clerk’s office said it had not received Rice’s request as of Thursday morning. The judge is out of the town until Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment, according to the courthouse.
In Missouri, special prosecutors have been appointed when county prosecutors seek assistance for complicated cases or ones that involve a conflict of interest. Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement Thursday that his office was ready to assist the county and trusted the judge would “make the decision in the best interests of the families.”
Eric Zahnd, the prosecutor in nearby Platte County, said the job could go to another county prosecutor, a lawyer in private practice or a lawyer from the state attorney general’s office. A special prosecutor can ask for additional investigations and meet with the witnesses before deciding whether to proceed, said Zahnd, who has requested and been appointed a special prosecutor in the past.
On Wednesday, Rice said he was asking for a special prosecutor only because of recent media stories that questioned the integrity of the county’s justice system. He said he stood by his earlier statements about the case, which generated new attention and an outpouring of responses on social media following an investigation by the Kansas City Star. The family also spoke out earlier this summer to Kansas City radio station KCUR.
The incident happened in January 2012, after Coleman’s daughter, Daisy, and a 13-year-old friend left the Colemans’ house in the middle of the night to meet some boys.
Daisy said the boys gave her alcohol and she doesn’t remember much of what happened next. Another 17-year-old allegedly videotaped the incident involving Daisy on a cellphone. The 13-year-old girl also said she was forced to have sex with a 15-year-old. The boys said the sex was consensual.
The 15-year-old was charged in the juvenile system. Charges against the 17-year-old accused of recording the incident were also dropped in March 2012.
Melinda Coleman did not return phone calls seeking comment after Rice announced he would ask for a special prosecutor. But in an interview with The Associated Press earlier Wednesday, Coleman insisted she would help investigators in any way she could, even if the case never made it to trial.
“I think just having it looked at fairly and having other people know how much we were bullied goes a long way. Even if that’s all that ever comes out of it,” she said. “That may be enough to move on and have some peace and some security.”
Coleman said her daughter made some mistakes, but that she was still the victim.
“She shouldn’t have snuck out of the house. She shouldn’t have drank. But I think a lot of 14-year-olds do that, and I’m sick of people saying she deserves this,” Coleman said
Robert Sundell, who earlier represented the teen accused of assaulting Daisy, was out of the office Wednesday and didn’t return phone messages. In a statement Tuesday, Sundell said his former client cooperated with the investigation and freely admitted to the sexual encounter. He said that while many may find his former client’s behavior “reprehensible,” the legal issue was whether a crime was committed.
The case has drawn comparisons to one in Steubenville, Ohio, where two 17-year-old high school football players were convicted of raping a West Virginia girl after an alcohol-fueled party in 2012. The case was furiously debated online and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the city’s celebrated football team.
Officials in Maryville say they’ve had to increase police patrols because of threats made against residents and the city in general.
However, Coleman said the harassment her family faced was from just a few residents, mainly friends and family members of the boys accused, and that she otherwise liked Maryville.