After nearly a week of outcry over a rape case in Maryville, Mo., prosecutors have announced a plan to reopen the investigation—spurred on by a television appearance made by one of the victims.
A CNN appearance by Daisy Coleman and her mother, in which they discussed the circumstances surrounding Daisy’s rape and the dropping of charges against her alleged attacker, seems to have given county prosecutor Robert Rice a change of heart. He defended his former position at a press conference Wednesday night, claiming that initially Coleman had pled the 5th, stalling the investigation (a claim Coleman and her mother dispute). Until the CNN appearance, he said, “the witnesses never told me that they were willing to cooperate and testify after they invoked their 5th Amendment right in a deposition under oath.”
But now it’s time to finally move the case out of the court of public opinion and into the Maryville courthouse. “It’s important to me,” said Rice, “that the public confidence in our criminal justice system be upheld.”
However while those accused of the crime have been far less vocal than victims Daisy Coleman and Paige Parkhurst, they have not been completely silent.
Who are they, what happened to them since the inebriated girls were assaulted at a secret “party” in January 2012 - then the investigation suddenly dropped - and who is in their corner?
Matthew Barnett, 17, Jordan Zech, 17, and two boys aged 15 were named as the key suspects in the case which has stunned the small town of Maryville, Missouri, and evoked international outcry.
TODAY: Maryville prosecutor backflips on rape case review
BACKGROUND: Sex and shame - inside the Maryville horror
Barnett was a popular senior football player with the Maryville school team, the Spoofhounds; he came from the privileged background of a local political family. Since the case was dropped he has moved to university, apparently shown little remorse and distinguished himself with a number of misogynistic remarks.
Zech was the school wrestling hero, a close friend of Barnett’s and a member of a prominent family that ran the town’s most popular restaurant. Details of the two other boys are suppressed due to their age.
One cold, fateful night: Recapping the events
On January 7, 2012, Daisy - then 14 - and 13-year-old Paige had been secretly drinking in Daisy’s bedroom before being lured to a covert house party at the Barnetts’.
The sexual assaults allegedly took place while Matthew Barnett’s family slept upstairs.
Both Daisy and Paige, who has also been identified with the surname Borlan, were found at the Coleman’s home the next morning - confused, dishevelled and bleeding. Daisy was on the doorstep, with ice coating her hair. Paige was near delirious, sleeping on Daisy’s bed.
Both were rushed to hospital. Both were identified as potential rape victims, and a full rape analysis immediately worked up.
The local sheriff’s office quickly established a case against three boys, including Barnett. It appeared rock solid, with photos, video and other “substantive” evidence quickly assembled.
All three boys - including Barnett - confessed to their involvement, but all insisted it was with consent.
Incredibly, however, prosecutors then dropped the case, causing the girls and their families to go public while a vicious campaign of harassment was played out against the Colemans - eventually driving them out of town.
Maryville High School football star Matthew Barnett, right, and the town’s “Bearcat” stadium where he played and Daisy performed with the cheerleaders. Source: Supplied
Matthew Barnett: The laughing ladies’ man with a nasty attitude
The future seemed set for Matthew Barnett. His family was well off. He mixed with all the right people and was seen in all the right places.
He was regarded as infallible - invincible both on the football field and in social circles.
Girls saw him as the school’s “top catch”. And what high school boy didn’t envy the resident “top jock”?
Barnett had quickly become friends with Daisy’s older brother, Charlie, through their activities on the football field.
But it was a reluctant friendship on Charlie’s behalf.
Daisy, flattered by the attention of such a popular and high profile boy, began to explore the prospect of a relationship.
She began talking to him. Texting him.
She wanted to see more of him.
Days before the attack, Barnett had been a guest of the Colemans’ at their family home when a group of Charlie’s friends gathered to watch a football match.
Charlie Coleman did put voice to his concerns: “I told her to stay clear of that kid. But honestly, what teenage kid wants to listen to her older brother?” he told the Kansas City Star.
Charlie knew Barnett had already been testing the limits.
Barnett had been reported in the North West Missouri News on December 11 as having been arrested for drink-driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and being in under-age possession of cigarettes.
There appears to be no court references to any conviction or sentencing for the matter, however.
Allegations persist that the same “vanishing” of charges has happened to a variety of other brushes Barnett has had with the law, including fights and minor drug busts.
And while Barnett admitted to engaging in underage-sex with Daisy, he insists it was consensual. Daisy rejects this: She states he had given her two clear-alcohol “bitch slap” drinks, which pushed her over from her already inebriated state to the point of being comatose. Medical evidence backs these claims.
Barnett remains unrepentant. When hearing charges against him had been dropped, the jubilant jock started a social media campaign in celebration.
His posts on #jordanandmattarefree reveal much about his disparaging attitude towards women and sex.
In a recent retweet, a friend boasted of Barnett’s views on women - and their desire for his sexual attentions:
"If her name begins with A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z, she wants the D."
Matthew Barnett has since graduated from Maryville High School and became a freshman at the University of Central Missouri. It is the school of his grandfather, local Republican leader Rex Barnett.
Hacktivist group Anonymous - which has taken up the case on behalf of the girls - has let loose at this new social circle. Posters distributed around the campus stated:
"Women on campus need to be aware, this piece right here, felt it was okay to rape 14 year old. Be sure to treat him with the same respect. And his family wants the victim’s family to apologize for what their son has gone through. No sense of responsibility for one’s own actions!"
Some reports claim Barnett was kicked out of his family home about the time of the alleged attack and is now living with his grandfather who is providing him with a car and income.
One of the boys implicated in the attacks, Jordan Zechs, and the Maryville High School entrance sign. Source: Supplied
Jordan Zech: The assault-filming sidekick on the coat-tails of ‘greatness’
He was a Maryville high school senior and friend of Barnett. Zech had a level of popularity of his own, being the school’s star wrestler.
His family are also prominent members of the Maryville community. They owned and ran the popular A&G restaurant.
While not accused of rape himself, Zech was allegedly a willing participant in the effort to entrap the girls and ply them with alcohol.
He also admitted to recording much of the attack on his iPhone. After watching it the next day with friends, he confessed to deleting the file.
This footage is considered central to the case, despite the boys’ confessions. Prosecutor Robert Rice says the case is untenable because this file has not been recovered.
Most of the boys allegedly involved in the sexual attacks were members of the local football club, the Spoofhounds. Source: Supplied
The ‘local lads’ too young to name: Justice finally served?
There were two other boys involved in the attack. Both were under-age, so neither has been named.
One was reportedly a 15-year-old known to Daisy. The other is said to have been a Maryville Highschool junior on Barnett’s football team.
According to KCUR.org: “The boy who sexually assaulted Daisy Coleman’s friend (Paige) … made a plea bargain and spent several months in a juvenile facility.”
Any further details that may expose these young boys’ identities are protected under state law.
Maryville political baron Rex Barnett, right, and the courthouse at the centre of the town. Source:Supplied
Rex Barnett: Maryville powerhouse, pastor and former cop
He is the family patriarch - a Republican powerbroker who served four terms in the Missouri House of Representatives between 1994 and 2002. He is also a deacon in the First Baptist Church.
He has steadfastly claimed to have kept the case involving his grandson “at arm’s length” from the outset.
"As long as I’ve been in politics and law enforcement, I knew that if this thing drug on long, I would be pulled into it somewhere, I think, just for political reasons," Barnett told CNN.
"So I made it a point not to talk to the prosecuting attorney, to the sheriff, to any of the witnesses directly or indirectly, and I stuck to that. And I’m glad I did."
The case was dropped “because of a lack of testimony from the complainants. And without that, the prosecuting attorney has no case,” he said.
Rex Barnett does have particularly strong ties with the small rural community, as well as the local law enforcement agencies.
The Kansas City Star described Rex like this: “(He) served 32 years with the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Troop H before embarking on a fruitful political run. In 1994, the Republican was elected as a state representative, serving four terms before leaving the House in 2002.”
Rex also served on several local law enforcement committees, one of which included local Sheriff Darren White.
And he’s previously shown himself willing to use his influence to secure positions for his family.
One granddaughter worked on Missouri Republican Sam Grave’s campaign team in an office that contained Maryville prosecutor Robert Rice’s sister.
The ongoing controversy has been particularly hard on his family, he said.
"It’s been tough," he said. "I mean, we thought it was over a year and a half ago, and to my knowledge, there has been no change, nothing more evidentiary has come up that I know of.
"But (the case has) resurfaced, and I’m not sure why."
Prosecutor Rober Rice (inset Facebook picture) and the Maryville County Courthouse. Source:Supplied
Robert Rice: A connected prosecutor who is finally seeking a review of the case
Nowaday County Prosecutor Robert Rice has been the target of much unfavourable coverage in this case. Questions have been asked about who funded his campaign for office, his links to the Republicans and Rex Barnett.
Rice says Daisy and Paige’s parents chose not to pursue charges against the boys.
On CNN this week, both parents said this was a lie - and Rice has since said he will ask a court to appoint a special prosecutor to review the facts and look at possibly refiling charges against the boys.
Daisy’s mother is highly critical of the prosecutor’s performance.
"This is the prosecuting attorney who was supposed to be protecting us, and he was chiming in with the defense attorney toward my daughter," Melinda Coleman told the LA Times.
Previously, the prosecutor had claimed Daisy was being uncooperative, and this was the cause for the case to be dropped.
There was no longer a strong case as the iPhone video had not been recovered and medical evidence had proven “inconclusive”, he said.
And he isn’t afraid of expressing his feelings about the happenings on that cold January night: They were just being “incorrigible teenagers”.
"They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No," he told KCUR last year:
So, he dropped the charges.
"The state does not have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that those two defendants committed the charges that were originally filed against them after concluding our investigation," he wrote.
However, an online petition conducted on Change.org claimed the charges had been dropped before the forensic results from the standardised “rape kit” collected by medical staff the day after the alleged rapes had been handed in.
The petition also asserts the charges were dropped because of the Barnett family’s influence.
Rice rejected the claims.
"We did have all the medical, and all the information where we could make a decision based on the evidence, and I am absolutely convinced it was the right call to do, and it was the right decision to dismiss it," he told a local TV station last year.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has insisted he does not have the authority to review Rice’s actions.
Defence lawyer Robert Sundell, who represented Barnett, also says the investigation and witness statements disprove Daisy Coleman’s claims.
"The (prosecutor) did the right thing by dismissing a case that could not be proven, and it probably would have been unethical for the prosecutor to continue prosecution when the substantial evidence pointed to Mr. Barnett’s innocence," Sundell said in a written statement.
But Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and House Speaker Tim Jones this week added their voices to the chorus of critics.
Questions over why the case wasn’t prosecuted, Kinder said in a statement, “will fester and taint the reputation of our state for delivering impartial justice to all.”
Rice at one stage stopped giving interviews over the case, declaring he had done his best: “You make your decision based on what you know and based on what you can prove, and, you know, I sleep well at night knowing I did the right thing.”
However today, as he announced his move to have the facts reviewed, he said: “The public trust in our criminal justice system must be upheld at all times.”
He also said he was upset that his decision was called into question in media accounts, according to CNN.
"My name was dragged through the mud … and I don’t appreciate that."
Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White. Source: Supplied
Sheriff Darren White: A large man of small expectations
It should have been and open-and-shut case.
It certainly seemed that way.
Maryville Sheriff Darren White told The Kansas City Star that his office put together a case that would “absolutely” result in prosecutions.
"Within four hours, we had obtained a search warrant for the house and executed that," White said. "We had all of the suspects in custody and had audio/video confessions."
He backed up his confidence later, in another interview.
"Did a crime occur? Hell yes, it occurred," White said. "Was it a horrible crime? Yes, it was a horrible crime. And did these boys need to be punished for it? Absolutely."
So what went wrong?
The sheriff now accuses Daisy’s mother, Melinda Coleman, of being hostile and uncooperative.
White said Daisy twice invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions about the alleged rape. And Paige “never showed up any time,” White said.
But Melinda says she felt scared by a sheriff’s department that had clearly turned against her and her daughter. And she rejected her daughter had refused to testify.
"We did not refuse to testify with the felony case, we were not given any information about it, and we were not asked to testify," she told CNN yesterday.
She went so far as to say Daisy had refused to sign documents presented to her which invoked the 5th Amendment “defence”.
Sheriff White is frank about the scandal, and the social media campaign targeting his office.
"They are truly a bunch of cowards, hiding behind - even their name, ‘Anonymous’. What do you do with people like that?" he said. "They all need to get jobs and quit living with their parents."
As for Daisy and Paige?
"We did our job," he says. "We did it well. It’s unfortunate that they are unhappy.
"I guess they’re just going to have to get over it."
The hacktivists: An Anonymous attack
Internet activist organisation Anonymous is basking in the success of a similar case in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school athletes were eventually tried for raping a teenage girl who later committed suicide.
Now, the hacktivists - as they like to be known - have taken up the case of Daisy and Paige,saying they must step in because of the failure of local authorities to carry out their responsibilities.
They have raised considerable awareness of the incident through Twitter and Facebook campaigns, even resorting to printed posters being hung at universities and in town squares as well as direct contact with print and television media.
The Twitter hashtags #Justice4Daisy and #OpMaryville are regularly updated with post by Anonymous’ activists.
A YouTube video - recently removed by Google - was published as part of their campaign. And the Yelp page for the family restaurant of one of the alleged perpetrators has been swamped with unflattering reviews.
But the campaign is not one sided.
A college-age sister of one of the five boys implicated in the rapes has started her own Twitter campaign
And Anonymous’ activites are not without price. One of its members is on trial for hacking activities in relation to the Steubenvillecase. If sentenced, he will serve a jail term much longer than that of the rapists he helped expose.
But the hacktivists continue to use their illegal and unorthodox methods to fight what they call corruption and incompetence:
"We demand an immediate investigation into the handling by local authorities of Daisy’s case. Why was a suspect, who confessed to a crime, released with no charges? How was video and medical evidence not enough to put one of these football players inside a court room? What is the connection of these prosecutors, if any, to Rep. Rex Barnett? Most of all, We are wondering, how do the residents of Maryville sleep at night?
"We have heard Daisy’s story far too often. We heard it from Steubenville, Halifax and Uttar Pradesh. In some cases, it was too late. Both Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, girls not much older than Daisy, took their own lives after the adults, the police and the school system, failed to protect them. If Maryville won’t defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them. Mayor Jim Fall, your hands are dirty. Maryville, expect us…We Are Anonymous. We Are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Join us."
Paige Parkhurst, left, was just 13 when she was allegedly raped while visiting Maryville. Her friend, Daisy Coleman, right, only 15. Source: Supplied
The victims: Living with the consequences
Paige and Daisy are no longer friends. They in separate schools and only reunited this week on a CNN broadcast in order to seek personal justice for the attacks on their innocence.
Daisy’s mom, Melinda, says she misses the two girls she knew before that January night.
"They were sparkly," she told KCUR.org." They just lit up a room wherever they went, so much fun. And you know, neither one of them has that anymore. She was either going to be a vet or a doctor and now she wants to be a baby-sitter. She went from straight A’s, to kind of mediocre. From being a cheerleader to not wanting to do anything. It just took away her entire teenage years. "
Melinda herself was inexplicably fired from her job as the town’s vet and the family has since fled Maryville’s “incessant bullying”.
Daisy was ejected from the school cheerleading team “for her role in that night’s events”. She went on to attempt suicide twice.
"I just felt like if I’m this ugly on the inside, I might as well look it on the outside," she said. "You’re the s-word, you’re the w-word - b-word. Just, after a while, you start to believe it," Daisy said.
Her mother says she is still cutting herself.
Melinda explained the reason for the girls’ public testimony to CNN earlier this week:
"My concern was that some other girls came forward and told me that the same thing happened with this same group of boys. 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.
"So my concern is: what is going to take for them to do something here? Is one of these girls gonna to have to die? Are they going to end up freezing in their front yard before they do something?"