A Missouri county prosecutor under fire for dropping charges in a controversial rape case is blaming the failure on the victims’ refusal to testify, contradicting an earlier statement.
Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice issued a press release Tuesday, defending his actions on insufficient evidence because “the state's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege to not testify.”
Contrary to that statement, Rice told KCUR in July that, in fact, the victims’ families did ultimately sit for interviews with him and the accused boys’ defense attorneys.
(Question from KCUR): For this case involving Daisy Coleman was there a deposition that was done for the sexual charges?
(Answer): There were depositions.
(Q): For the sexual assault charges or for the child endangerment charges?
(A): It was all inclusive.
Rice has received a deluge of criticism for his role in the case, first brought to light by KCUR in a story that went viral this week, triggering an online onslaught and promises of more protests in Maryville next week.
The case centers on an early morning incident in January 2012, when a 17-year-old football player from Marysville, Matthew Barnett, texted then-14-year-old Daisy Coleman. Coleman and a 13-year-old friend, who had been drinking at Coleman’s mother’s home, snuck out of the house, were picked up by Barnett and some friends, taken to Barnett’s home and told to drink clear liquid from what the boys called “the Bitch Cup.”
Coleman remembers nothing after that, and several of the teenagers later told law enforcement that she was snuck out of the home through a basement window, driven home and propped up on her mother’s porch, drunk, crying and without a coat in the below-zero weather. Barnett admitted to having sex with Coleman, though he said it was consensual.
When her mother discovered Coleman three hours later, police were called and the boys were quickly arrested. Along with Barnett, another boy, Jordan Zech, then 17, was also charged in the case, accused of taking a cell phone videotape of Barnett and Coleman.
But all charges were dropped a few months later and Rice refused to tell the alleged victims' families about his decision. Ultimately, all the charges against the boys were dropped, with Rice claiming there was insufficient evidence to move forward with the case.
Coleman's 13-year-old friend was also sexually assaulted, but that case was prosecuted and the boy was sentenced to time in a juvenile facility.
This week, fueled by social media and popular online news sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed, outrage has focused on Barnett, Rice, Sheriff Darren White and Maryville officials. Joining the Colemans, who have appeared on national television, two Missouri lawmakers called for a new investigation of the case.
Daisy and her mother, Melinda, told KCUR that they were reluctant to testify early in the case, given an increasingly hostile relationship with law enforcement. At first, and on the recommendation of a victims’ advocate, they said they pleaded the Fifth. Then, they said, some time later they decided that they must talk to investigators.
Melinda Coleman remembers the interview as two hours of hostile questions about why there were so many online and social media mentions of the case. During a phone interview with KCUR in July, Rice denied that he had been aggressive during the meeting.
“I'm not specifically going into what was done at the depositions. I can't say anything else other than the fact that it was the defense lawyer that was asking questions,” he said. “I'm allowed to follow-up with questions, but in no way do I ... That's absurd, so I can't respond. I can't. I want to, I can't."
In his statement released to the media on Tuesday, Rice reiterated that there was “insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” adding that law enforcement authorities are prohibited from commenting on a closed criminal case.
But Rice did refer to the ongoing attacks on him.
“The personal attacks made against me,” he wrote, “are malicious, wrong, and never happened (sic).”