Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker promised Monday to review sexual assault allegations in Maryville, Mo., “without fear and without favor.”
Baker made the comments in a statement to reporters after 4th Circuit Associate Judge Glen Dietrich named her the special prosecutor in a case that has riveted the nation for the last eight days.
Daisy Coleman claims she was sexually assaulted in January 2012, at age 14, by a high school senior in Maryville. Felony charges against two suspects were filed in the case but later dropped by Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert L. Rice. A misdemeanor charge also was dropped eventually.
The girl’s mother, Melinda Coleman, contends that political favoritism played a role in the decision to drop the charges, an accusation Rice has repeatedly denied.
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Rice has said he dropped the case because of a lack of evidence and cooperation on the part of the Colemans. Melinda Coleman has said she stopped cooperating only after the felony charges were dropped.
People in parts of northwest Missouri — and, eventually, much of the nation — sharply questioned Rice’s decision after The Kansas City Star published a story about the investigation Oct. 13.
In response to that outcry, Rice asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor who could reopen the case.
Baker accepted the appointment Monday and said a special staff in her office would begin investigating immediately.
“I will be directly involved in the review,” she said. “Politics, connections, or any other reason you can think of, will not play a role in our review of this case. It will be the evidence.”
Rice, the Nodaway County prosecutor, is a Republican. One of the alleged assault suspects, Matthew Barnett, is the grandson of a once-prominent Nodaway County Republican state legislator. The teen said the sex with Daisy was consensual.
Baker is a Democrat, as is the judge who appointed her.
Baker took no questions from reporters. In her statement, she said she did not know how long a new investigation might take.
“I’m going to ask the community as well for patience,” she said. “This is going to be a process.”
Melinda Coleman reiterated Monday that her goal from the beginning has simply been to have the case examined in a just, unbiased manner.
“Someone to look at it fairly and with some enthusiasm,” Coleman said. “I’m OK with wherever it falls from there. As long as we have a just, fair chance at it.”
Through his office, Rice declined to comment. Barnett’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Monday’s developments came as Maryville prepares for a courthouse rally Tuesday night.
In a statement, Maryville Public Safety Director Keith Wood said his department, the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Northwest Missouri State University Police Department were working together “to create a secure environment” for the 6 p.m. rally. Wood said the city expects up to 2,000 people.
Courtney Cole of Excelsior Springs, a women’s rights activist who is one of the event’s organizers, said the rally is for justice for all victims of sexual assault.
Cole created the Justice for Daisy Facebook event page on Oct. 14 and announced plans for a rally, which she thought would draw about a thousand people. Later that day, she said, representatives from the online “hacktivist” group Anonymous contacted her via her Twitter account to discuss joining forces.
Anonymous’ reaction to The Star’s story helped bring international attention to the town.
In a statement posted on the Justice for Daisy Facebook page, Coleman defended Maryville, saying many in the town of 12,000 supported the family in the aftermath of the arrests.
She said her daughter would not be attending the rally in an effort to prevent things from escalating. She also urged those at the rally to remain peaceful.
“I don’t want others terrorized as we have been,” Coleman said.