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The Journal Gazette

Monday, October 21, 2013 7:12 pm

New prosecutor to look at Mo. sex assault case

By BILL DRAPERAssociated Press

A special prosecutor was appointed Monday to reinvestigate allegations levied by a 14-year-old Missouri girl who said she was sexually assaulted by an older classmate who plied her with alcohol in their rural town.

Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who is no stranger to high-profile cases, was named to the job by a Nodaway County judge. Baker will be able to launch her own investigation and work independently from the local prosecutor, who has faced increasing scrutiny over his handling of the case.

The girl and her mother recently went public, saying Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice didn't do enough before dropping charges against the boy last year. Rice maintains that the family stopped cooperating, which the family disputes, but he requested a special prosecutor last week to re-examine the case.

During a news conference, Baker touched on claims by some of the girl's supporters who say prosecutors were influenced by prominent community members who supported the accused boys in Maryville, a small town in northwestern Missouri.

"Politics, connections or any other reason you can think of will not play a role in our review of this case," Baker said.

The Kansas City-area prosecutor said she has already started assembling a team of prosecutors, victims' advocates and investigators, but she gave no timeline for her investigation.

Baker also was under a spotlight during her recent prosecution of Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn, who was accused of failing to report suspected child abuse. It resulted in the first criminal conviction against an American bishop charged in the clergy sex scandal.

Before that case went to trial, she said some people thought she was being too harsh while others wanted more charges.

"The prosecutor is not in the business of pleasing people," she told The Associated Press in March 2012.

Baker is now stepping into a case where similar sentiments are being levied. In fact, protests sparked by the case are expected Tuesday and have prompted officials in Maryville to close the county's administrative building and courthouse for the entire day.

Melinda Coleman alleges that her daughter was given alcohol in January 2012 by a 17-year-old Maryville High School student who then sexually assaulted her daughter at his home when she became incapacitated. She has said her daughter sneaked out the night of the alleged assault.

Her daughter, Daisy, said another 17-year-old videotaped the assault with a cellphone and that a 13-year-old friend who went with her that night was raped by a 15-year-old boy.

The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual assault but is naming the Colemans 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.

Daisy's alleged assailant was initially charged with felony sexual assault and the second 17-year-old was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor. Rice, the Nodaway County prosecutor, said last week that the charges were dropped because there wasn't enough evidence and Daisy's family had stopped cooperating.

Melinda Coleman adamantly denies the claim, saying she and her daughter never stopped cooperating and were fully prepared to provide whatever assistance would be needed if the case were reopened.

Charges against the 15-year-old were handled in juvenile court and are not public record.

On Monday, Nodaway County law enforcement officials were preparing for a protest expected Tuesday evening on Maryville's downtown square. The event is being organized online by at least two activist groups, including one called "Justice for Daisy."

Sheriff Darren White said portable toilets and podiums would be set up, and other accommodations were being made so protesters could "do what they need to do, then move on."

The sheriff said he has heard of a possible counter-protest, which could further swell the ranks of people around the square.

"Depending on what figure you look at, it could be upwards of a couple thousand people," White said. "That's a whole lot of people to dump downtown all at once."