KANSAS CITY, Mo.(MCT) — Two high-ranking Missouri officials have called for new investigations in a sexual-assault case that has embroiled the town of Maryville, Mo., and gained international attention.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice to reopen the case of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman and a 13-year-old friend, who were allegedly sexually abused by two prominent Maryville High School football players.
Similarly, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones called for Koster to reconsider his earlier position that he had no authority to intervene, unless requested to do so by the county prosecutor.
An in-depth story in The Kansas City Star on Sunday has pinged around the Internet and media outlets for three days, prompting new attention on Maryville and the case.
Rice last year dropped felony charges against the two 17-year-old athletes.
On Tuesday, Rice reiterated his reasons, issuing a statement to the media: "There was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The State's witnesses refused to cooperate," he continued, "and invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege to not testify."
Rice also contended on Tuesday that The Star's story "did not include all the facts as to what transpired" in the case. He could not be reached Tuesday.
The mother of the 13-year-old girl told CNN Tuesday night that she and her daughter were never asked to give a deposition or any other kind of testimony before Rice dropped the felony charges. Melinda Coleman repeated her family's position, expressed in Sunday's Star story, that she had not been uncooperative in the case — at least until Rice dropped the charges.
The incident began in January 2012, when Daisy Coleman and her friend consumed alcohol and went to the home of a 17-year-old football player. Within hours Daisy was left on her front lawn, partly clothed and nearly unconscious, in freezing weather.
The 17-year-old, Matthew Barnett, was ultimately charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Another 17-year-old, Jordan Zech, was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, for allegedly shooting phone video of one of the sexual encounters. A 15-year-old boy was charged in juvenile court.
Rice dropped the charges against the football players in March 2012.
In the ensuing months the Coleman family, newcomers to Maryville, experienced a stream of harassment, and Melinda Coleman lost her job at a veterinary clinic. The Colemans moved back to Albany, Mo., and the house they left in Maryville burned while it was on the market. No cause for the fire has been determined.
Robert Sundell, Barnett's attorney, suggested to CNN on Tuesday that "since a legal conviction was not possible, it appears some would like to try the case in the court of public opinion." Zech's attorney has declined to comment.
In his statement Kinder conceded he did not have all the facts, yet "facts revealed in exhaustive media reports, including the 4,000-word piece in the Kansas City Star, raise all kinds of questions that it is now clear won't be put to rest. These questions will fester and taint the reputation of our state for delivering impartial justice to all. ... The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look."
Kinder suggested that Koster and Rice call for a grand jury to review the case.
Jones also stated that he believed Koster would be empowered to intervene in the case.
Kinder and Jones are Republicans, and Koster is a Democrat who is likely to run for governor next year.
"It seems that the facts cried out for another look," Kinder told The Star Tuesday, "and I was shocked and dismayed at the attorney general's statement last night that, 'nothing to see here, move right along.' The grand jury ... seemed like the logical legal orderly procedure to follow."
Asked whether politics were involved in his position, Kinder replied: "I think it's a Republican county official... So I'm liable to be criticized by Republicans locally in northwest Missouri for the stand I took. Look, you're going to (be) criticized no matter what you do, and you'll get criticized for doing nothing. So I don't worry about that."
Koster could not be reached Tuesday night.
In another development, a prominent Internet "hacktivist" group, known as Anonymous, on Monday launched a campaign of outrage to bring attention to the case and rain Twitter havoc on Maryville.
"If Maryville won't defend these young girls ... then we will have to stand for them," the group announced in an audio statement.
Maryville officials, who met about the issue on Monday, according to an online report in the Maryville Daily Forum, said police would step up patrols to protect people involved in the case.
They also noted that, contrary to the Anonymous emphasis on Maryville, Maryville city officials and police had no role in the assault investigation and prosecution. Those were handled by the Nodaway County Sheriff and county prosecutor's office, the officials said.
Sheriff Darren White told CNN on Tuesday that he believes his office "handled this case flawlessly."
"I would welcome someone from the outside coming in and taking a look at this case," he said.
(c)2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services