A Democratic judge has been asked to appoint a special prosecutor to consider charges against two teens accused in connection with a sexual encounter in Nodaway County, Mo., in 2012.
Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich of Missouri’s 4th Judicial District will consider the request. He is the only Democratic judge in the five-county district, according to state records.
Legal experts called Dietrich’s political affiliation a coincidence. Dietrich was asked to make the pick because he’s the circuit judge in Maryville, the county seat of Nodaway County, they said.
Roger Prokes, the 4th District presiding judge, is a Republican, as is Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice.
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Political affiliations became an issue after Rice decided to drop felony charges against two teens involved in an alleged sexual assault in Maryville in January 2012. One of the teens is related to a former Republican state legislator.
Rice has strongly denied any political motive for his decision to drop the charges. On Wednesday he asked for a special prosecutor to review the case.
It isn’t known when Dietrich will appoint that prosecutor. On Thursday, a courthouse clerk said the judge was out of the office until next week.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, said Thursday he was willing to assist authorities in Nodaway County if asked.
“The Attorney General’s Office stands ready to assist Nodaway County in the prosecutorial review of this matter,” Koster’s statement said. “The judge will select the new prosecutor, and we trust he will make the decision in the best interests of the families.”
Also Thursday, Shirley Barnett, the mother of one of the teens who had been charged in the case, called for an end to threats against people in Maryville.
“There are a lot of innocent people who have nothing to do with this case who have been threatened, and it’s not right,” said Barnett, who made a similar statement at the end of a press conference held by Rice on Wednesday.
“Students at different (college) campuses have been threatened just because they’re from Maryville,” she said. “There are business people uptown who don’t even know us who are getting threats.”
While she spoke, her phone rang.
“There’s another one,” she said. “You can hear it.”
Asked how her son was doing, she offered a pained smile.
Matthew Barnett, a student at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, came under fire at the university this week when the Maryville case began to attract international attention. School officials met to discuss the situation, and the university’s Facebook page was inundated with outcry about his status as a student at the school.