Melinda Coleman and her daughter, Daisy, went on CNN on Monday evening to talk about Daisy's alleged rape at the hands of a high school football player in Maryville, Missouri — a story that reminded us of Steubenville and has since captured the attention of the nation. And what they said doesn't match up to what officials have told us.
The Prosecutor And Sheriff Have Confusing Accounts of the Same Story
This story has a lot in common with the Steubenville rape case (where an arrest in connection to the rape and possible cover-up was made last week) — that a local alleged crime has become national news, that Coleman's story has drawn the attention of Anonymous, that the family faced retribution from their town, and finally, that Daisy's alleged rapist, Matthew Barnett, went unpunished.
Sheriff Darren White told CNN that the prosecutor in the case, Robert Rice, let Barnett walk free because Coleman and her daughter refused to cooperate. He told CNN that they were ready to prosecute, but the Colemans derailed that option. "The only people's stories that have been inconsistent throughout this whole thing are the Colemans, the victims in this thing," White said. The Colemans told the Kansas City Star that they were eager to work with authorities until the felony charges were dropped.
Now, if you talk to Rice, which the Kansas City Star did, he says the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. From what he told the Star, he didn't sound as confident as White:
Rice said charges were dropped for lack of evidence, but he added, declining to go into the specifics, that information brought to his attention regarding what happened "before, during and after" the incident also played a role in his actions.
"There wasn’t any prosecuting attorney that could take that case to trial," he said.
"It had to be dismissed. And it was."
There were rape kit results and witness interviews taken, but they were sealed after the charges were dropped. And according to the doctor who treated Coleman the morning after her alleged assault, the Rice's decision was "surprising." Rice added:
"They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No," Rice said in an interview, explaining why the charges were dumped.
So ... on one hand you have a sheriff saying that there's no cooperation, on the other is the prosecutor saying there was not enough evidence, and looming all over this is the family that says they were working with officials until the felony rape charges were dropped.
How can we reconcile these stories? Perhaps the sheriff was confident about the prosecution of the one misdemeanor charge that wasn't dropped, while the Colemans wanted to see more done and would not settle for a (relatively speaking) minor charge. But we don't know.
At the very least, it's all very confusing about how much justice each party wanted to see.
One of the Victims Want to Testify
If you ask the Colemans themselves, as Erin Burnett did on Monday night, it seems like they are willing to talk and want to go to trial. Melinda said she and her daughter "would like to see the case reopened and I'd like to see some justice." Daisy added that she would testify if the case were re-opened.
If we're going by Sheriff White's account, it does sound like the Colemans changed their minds between March 2012 (when the charges were dropped) and now. White is allowed his observation. But in case we need to be reminded, it isn't against the law to change your mind, especially when it comes to something as traumatic as rape. Whether the case can be re-opened is for a judge to decide.
The Town's Actions
The other, more disturbing, theory floating around is that the Colemans or officials in Maryville were somehow pressured into dropping the case, the Kansas City Star reports. Barnett comes from a well-connected family and is a grandson of former Missouri state Rep. Rex Barnett, who has ties to Rice. Rex Barnett denied any meddling to the newspaper.
"The fact that the family wasn’t from Maryville made it a lot easier for the prosecutor to drop those charges," a Missouri attorney told The Star. And for some reason or another, the Colemans' house was burned to the ground after they moved away. That's drastic stuff.
Monday night's CNN appearance doesn't seem to be the only stop for the Colemans. Daisy and another victim may appear on the network tonight. And in Monday's interview, Melinda Coleman opened the door to more girls coming forward. She said:
When I had talked to the Sheriff initially he told me that there had been girls who had come forward and that there had been maybe even 10 other girls that were also assaulted. So later on he said that they were all liars, I digitally recorded him saying that they were all liars and that they just wanted to crucify those poor innocent boys.
Here's the video of the interview:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.