Facing a courthouse sidewalk jammed with reporters and television crews, Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice on Wednesday said he has asked associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich to appoint a special prosecutor in a 2012 case in which two teenage girls were allegedly given alcohol and sexually abused at a high school house party.
Facing a courthouse sidewalk jammed with reporters and television crews, Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice on Wednesday said he has asked associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich to appoint a special prosecutor in a 2012 case in which two teenage girls were allegedly given alcohol and sexually abused at a high school house party. The story has drawn national and international attention since the Kansas City Star published an in-depth investigative report on Sunday that raised questions about Rice's handling of the case. One of the alleged victims, Daisy Coleman, then 14, and her mother, Melinda Coleman, have since appeared on national television and claimed that justice was denied when Rice dropped the case against two 17-year-old Maryville High School student athletes in March 2012, two months after Melinda Coleman found found her daughter passed out on the family's front porch in near-freezing temperatures. Earlier this week, Rice issued a statement saying there wasn't enough evidence to pursue the charges because the alleged victims stopped cooperating and asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Sheriff Darren White backed Rice's version of events, and said Thursday Rice had been eager to prosecute in the wake of the arrests. In his remarks to the press later that day, Rice said he decided to call for a special prosecutor after watching Daisy and Melinda Coleman interviewed during a CNN broadcast where they declared their willingness to cooperate with the state's case and testify in court. Also interviewed were the other victim, Paige Borlan, and her mother. Paige Borlan was 13 at the time of the alleged assault. The Daily Forum does not typically identify victims of sexual assault but is doing so in this case because because both Coleman and Borlan chose to go public. "Until that interview, those witnesses never contacted me to say that they changed their minds to testify in court after invoking their Fifth Amendment privilege under oath in a deposition," Rice said. Once appointed, Rice said, the special prosecutor will conduct an independent review and make a decision on whether to refile charges against Matthew Barnett and Jordan Zech, the former MHS students who allegedly committed the assaults. Before the charges were dropped, Barnett was charged with felony sexual assault, and Zech was charged with felony sexual exploitation of a minor. Zech's charge was reportedly linked to the reported use of a cell phone to make a video of a sex act, but White said at Wednesday's press conference the video was erased shortly after it was made, and that technicians at the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Kansas City were unable to recover it. Throughout the press conference, Rice adamantly maintained that he made every effort to bring the case to trial and only dropped the charges after Daisy Coleman refused to testify. He said the deposition in which Coleman asserted her Fifth Amendment rights was recorded and taken under oath, but that the file was closed under a state law that precludes making such records public if the case does not move forward. Rice insisted that Coleman made her decision knowing "the entire case would have to be dismissed," and that her decision came after a "drawn out and deliberate series of questions to make sure she was doing so voluntarily." Asked about the national furor the episode has created, Rice said he had no regrets about his handling of the case, adding that he thought the Star article was slanted and incomplete. "It was written to inflame the passions of humanity," Rice said, "but it did not include all the facts." Rice also said he felt his name "was dragged through the mud in that article, and I don't appreciate it." Asked if Daisy Coleman invoked her right not to testify because she had been threatened with a criminal charge herself, Rice bluntly responded, "Not by me." "I made the call with the evidence I had," Rice said. "I made the best decision I could, and I don't feel bad about it." After dropping the charges in March 2012, two months after the alleged assaults, Rice said he would still have been willing to pursue the case had the alleged victims told him they were willing to take the stand. "My door was always open if they changed their mind," he said. Though Coleman indicated to the Star that she was willing to participate in the case against Zech and Barnett, Rice said he "frankly didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes" on television. Melinda Coleman, a veterinarian who moved her family to Albany because of what she described as backlash from the community over the girls' accusations, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying suggestions that she and her daughter were uncooperative are untrue. "How do you think we didn't want to cooperate?" Coleman asked. "We went to get a rape kit done. I wrote a statement, and my daughter gave a statement to the police." Coleman said no depositions were conducted before the felony charges were dropped. She said she refused to invoke the Fifth Amendment before a planned May 31, 2012, deposition, though she was asked to do so. Citing the sealed record, Rice declined to disclose the precise order of events with regard to the deposition and Daisy Coleman's reported decision not to testify. Robert Sundell, an attorney hired to represent Barnett, said his client's accusers did invoke the Fifth Amendment right at the May hearing. The Maryville 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. Political fallout over the Coleman case intensified this week as Missouri Republicans called on Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, to intervene. A spokeswoman for Koster's office said Tuesday it had no authority under state law to reopen the investigation on its own. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called on Koster to ask that a grand jury be convened, and House Speaker Tim Jones said the attorney general should consider intervening. Following Rice's press conference on the courthouse square, the city of Maryville held one of its own, during which City Manager Greg McDanel repeated earlier statements that municipal law enforcement had nothing to do with the case, which was under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Office. McDanel said the city supported the decision to appoint a special prosecutor, and that he hoped the case would now move through the criminal justice system toward resolution. "This is an unfortunate incident that has cast a shadow over the community," McDanel said. McDanel's remarks were an apparent response to Anonymous, a shadowy network of of activists and Internet hackers who have flooded websites and Twitter with posts protesting the way the case has been handled. On Monday, Anonymous released an online statement in which a digitally produced voice warned city officials to "expect us." Widely disseminated online, the statement continues: "If Maryville won't defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if (the) justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them." A Facebook post on a site called "Justice For Daisy," which may be Anonymous-related, called for a "peaceful protest" at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Nodaway County Courthouse.