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Mo. man accused of rape charged with misdemeanor

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 2:00 p.m. CDT
Caption
FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2013, file photo supporters pass out flowers in Maryville, Mo., before a rally for Daisy Coleman, a girl who says she was sexually assaulted when she was 14. Matt Barnett, accused of sexually assaulting Coleman when he was 17, was charged Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, with a misdemeanor child endangerment charge. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old schoolmate when he was 17 was charged Thursday with misdemeanor child endangerment, not the far more serious rape charges that the girl and her family had wanted.

The charge against 19-year-old Matt Barnett was filed hours before he was scheduled to be arraigned in a courtroom in Maryville, the city about 85 miles north of Kansas City where Barnett grew up.

His lawyer, J.R. Hobbs, didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Special prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has been re-examining Daisy Coleman's allegations that Barnett raped her at a January 2012 house party, when he was a Maryville High School senior and she was a freshman. Barnett says the sex was consensual.

The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault but is naming Daisy because she and her mother have granted public interviews.

A spokesman for Baker, Mike Mansur, referred questions to a news conference planned for after the hearing in Nodaway County Court. Sheriff's officials said Barnett was not in custody Thursday.

Baker stepped in after the local prosecutor, Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice, was criticized for dropping the case. He alleged that Daisy's family had stopped cooperating — a claim Daisy and her mother deny.

Before dropping the case, Rice had been pursuing the same second-degree misdemeanor child endangerment charge filed Thursday by Baker. The charge carries a maximum punishment of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, though the judge has leeway to lower both penalties.

Melinda Coleman says authorities didn't do enough to push the investigation forward, and she alleged that Rice's decision to drop the case was politically motivated — Barnett's grandfather was a four-term Missouri state representative who was a state trooper for 32 years. Rice has denied the accusation.

Coleman said her daughter was harassed mercilessly on social media sites and at school after going to the authorities, and that it forced the family to move back to Albany, about 40 miles west of Maryville.

On Jan. 8, 2012, Daisy and her 13-year-old friend sneaked out of Daisy's house and were picked up by Barnett and some other boys, including some who were friends with her older brother, and taken to the home of one of the boys. The girls admitted that they drank alcohol before sneaking out.

Daisy claimed that when she got to the party, she was given a clear liquid that she drank before being taken into a bedroom and raped while a second boy recorded the act on his cellphone.

The 13-year-old was taken into a different room by a 15-year-old boy who forced her to have sex, something the boy admitted doing. His case was handled in the juvenile system and is not public record.

Daisy said she blacked out and doesn't remember much after arriving at the boy's home. Melinda Coleman has said she believes her daughter was given a date-rape drug.

Coleman said she awoke around 5 a.m. to a clawing sound at the front door and found her daughter shivering in sub-freezing temperatures. She said she was giving Daisy a bath to warm her up when she noticed signs that she had been assaulted.

Charging documents filed in court says Barnett "acted with criminal negligence ... by providing D.C. with alcohol until she was substantially intoxicated and impaired, and then leaving D.C. outside her home in the below-freezing temperatures when D.C. was incapable of protecting or caring for herself."

The story gained national attention in October after The Kansas City Star published a lengthy account of Daisy's claims, which the newspaper spent seven months investigating. The case and resulting publicity shook the small college town of Maryville, which was widely criticized on social media for its handling of the case.

The outcry led to a protest on Maryville's courthouse square in which a few hundred people showed up to show their support for Daisy and lambaste what they labeled as a "rape culture" that allowed the girl's assailant to go unpunished.

"I'm really glad this case was able to be looked at again," said Courtney Cole, who helped organize the courthouse protest. "This was a difficult case because it was two years old. They had a difficult job, given the amount of time that had passed.

"I respect the decision they made. I think it shows the case never should have been closed to begin with."

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