The Missouri Attorney General's Office has no power to reopen a northwest Missouri rape case, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, 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 of a seven-month investigation into the allegations on Sunday.
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 another boy had sex with the daughter's 13-year-old friend. A third 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 admitted 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.
"I found my daughter at 5 a.m. I took her to the hospital. I had her blood alcohol level checked between 9 and 9:30 in the morning. At the time it was .145, which was almost twice the legal limit," Melinda Coleman said.
Two 17-year-old boys were charged with felonies and misdemeanors but the Nodaway County prosecutor dropped the charges two months later, citing a lack of evidence and the Colemans' refusal to cooperate. A 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 concerning 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."
"Charging decisions in criminal cases are exclusively within the discretion of elected county prosecutors in Missouri," Gonder said. "With the exception of criminal authority to file charges in certain consumer fraud cases, the Attorney General is only authorized to prosecute criminal cases in Missouri when a local county prosecutor either requests our assistance or disqualifies himself or herself from a case, and then only after special appointment by a circuit judge."
Melinda Coleman, who now lives in Albany about 40 miles east of Maryville, appeared with her daughter on CNN Monday and said she hoped the attention would prompt another investigation.
"I'd like to see some justice," said Coleman, who added her daughter would be willing to testify in court if the case is reopened.
Robert Sundell, an attorney who represented one of the boys, declined to comment early Tuesday to The Associated Press, but said he would make a statement about the case later in the day. In the Star's story on Sunday he said, "just because we don't like the way teenagers act doesn't necessarily make it a crime."
The Star reported that 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, Mo. In April, the family's home in Maryville was damaged in a fire; the cause has not been determined.
"I think the town, rather than...well not the whole town because there are a handful of good people...that because it was uncomfortable, they didn't want to deal with it," Melinda Coleman said.
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 and invoked their 5th Amendment privilege to not testify." 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."
While Daisy is trying to live her life as a junior at a new school in a new town, the whole incident still haunts her.
"There's some other's (stories) more tragic than mine, they need to be heard," she said.
Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder also released a statement Wednesday urging Koster and Rice to revisit the case. In it, he said:
"Since Sunday I have read with growing dismay the media accounts of the Daisy Coleman case in Nodaway County. I make no claim to knowledge of all the facts. Still, facts revealed inexhaustive 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.
"I am disappointed that the Attorney General would wash his hands of the matter through a brief statement by a spokesman. The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cryout that responsible authorities must take another look. I call on Attorney General Koster and Prosecutor Rice to join me in asking that the Circuit Court convene a grand jury to review all the evidence, hear all witnesses and issue a decision as to whether charges should ensue.
"I hope that responsible officials will join me in this call for a grand jury to make the final call on whether criminal charges should or should not be filed."
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