Missouri AG says he can’t reopen sex assault case

BILL DRAPER, Associated Press
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MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday it has no power to reopen a northwest Missouri rape case, despite the pleas of a mother who says justice was denied when prosecutors dropped charges against teenage boys her 14-year-old daughter said sexually assaulted her and a 13-year-old friend.

The case in Maryville is drawing new attention after The Kansas City Star published the results Sunday of a seven-month investigation into the allegations.

The Star reported that few people dispute the basic facts of the Jan. 8, 2012, incident. A 17-year-old high school senior had sex with Melinda Coleman’s 14-year-old daughter, Daisy, while a 15-year-old boy had sex with the daughter’s 13-year-old friend. A third 17-year-old student recorded part of the incident on video. Coleman found her daughter the next morning outside their home, where the boys allegedly left her in freezing temperatures.

The daughter acknowledged she and the friend left her house to meet the boys but said they gave her alcohol and she doesn’t remember much of what happened next. The boys said the sex was consensual.

The two 17-year-old boys were charged as adults, but the Nodaway County prosecutor dropped felony counts against them two months later. A misdemeanor count against the teen accused of assaulting Daisy was dropped subsequently. The prosecutor cited a lack of evidence and the Colemans’ refusal to cooperate. The 15-year-old was charged in juvenile court.

The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual assault but is naming Coleman because she and her mother have been granting public interviews about the case. The AP is not naming the boys because there is no longer an active criminal case against them.

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, said in a statement Tuesday that the office has received petitions in the case but that “the Attorney General’s Office does not have the authority under the laws of the state of Missouri to review a prosecutor’s discretionary decisions in particular cases.”

Melinda Coleman, who now lives in Albany about 40 miles east of Maryville, appeared with her daughter on CNN Monday. She hoped the attention would prompt another investigation.

“I’d like to see some justice,” said Coleman, adding that her daughter would be willing to testify in court if the case is reopened.

Robert Sundell, an attorney who represented the teen accused of assaulting Daisy, said in a written statement that while many may find his former client’s behavior “reprehensible,” the legal issue is whether a crime occurred. He said the investigation raised questions about whether the 14-year-old was “incapacitated during the encounter.”

He also said the accusers refused to participate in a May 2012 deposition, citing their Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves, and offered inconsistent testimony during a July 2012 deposition. Sundell said his former client would not talk to the media.

Missouri has a law that criminalizes sexual intercourse involving a person under the age of 14. A provision for second-degree statutory rape makes it a crime for a person 21 or older to have sex with a person under the age of 17. A third provision makes it a crime for someone to have sex with another knowing that he does not have consent.

According to the Star’s report many residents of Maryville, about 100 miles north of Kansas City, turned on the Coleman family. Melinda Coleman was fired from her job and the harassment became so bad that the family moved back to Albany. In April, the family’s home in Maryville was damaged in a fire; the cause has not been determined.

Many in the town seemed to close ranks around the accused and suggested the girls were somehow responsible for the attack, the Star reported. The case has drawn comparisons to a rape case 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.

Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice said Tuesday there was “insufficient evidence” to prove the case and that “the State’s witnesses refused to cooperate.” He also disputed the Star’s story and suggestions he downplayed the case, saying “personal attacks made against me are malicious, wrong and never happened.”

One of the accused boys was the grandson of a prominent local politician. The grandfather denied to the Star that he brought any influence to the case, insisting that any contact with law enforcement “would have been bad for me and bad for the case.”

 

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