Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in 2012. Baker recently prosecuted a high-profile case against a Catholic bishop accused of failing to report child abuse. (Mike Ransdell / The Kansas City Star)
Kansas City, Mo. — A special prosecutor was appointed Monday to reinvestigate allegations levied by a 14-year-old Missouri girl who said she was sexually assaulted by an older classmate who plied her with alcohol in their rural town.
The case recently attracted national attention when the girl and her mother went public, saying the Nodaway County prosecutor didn’t do enough before dropping charges against the boy last year. Local prosecutors maintain that the family stopped cooperating, which the family disputes, but they asked for a special prosecutor to look at the case.
A Nodaway County judge chose Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to take on the role, the local county court clerk confirmed. Baker will be able to launch her own investigation and work independently from the local prosecutor.
Baker is no stranger to high-profile cases: Her prosecution of Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn, who was accused of failing to report suspected child abuse, resulted in the first criminal conviction against an American bishop charged in the clergy sex scandal.
Before that case went to trial, the Kansas City-area prosecutor said some people thought she was being too harsh while others wanted more charges.
“The prosecutor is not in the business of pleasing people,” she told The Associated Press in March 2012.
Baker is now stepping into a case where similar sentiments are being levied in Maryville, a small town in northwestern Missouri. In fact, protests sparked by the case are expected Tuesday and have prompted local officials to close the county’s administrative building and courthouse for the entire day.
Melinda Coleman claims her daughter was given alcohol in January 2012 by a 17-year-old Maryville High School student who then sexually assaulted her daughter at his home when she became incapacitated. She has said her daughter sneaked out the night of the alleged assault.
Her daughter, Daisy, said another 17-year-old videotaped the assault with a cellphone and that a 13-year-old friend who went with her that night was raped by a 15-year-old boy.
The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual assault but is naming the Colemans because they have been granting public interviews about the case. The AP is not naming the accused boys because there are no active charges against them.
Daisy’s alleged assailant was initially charged with felony sexual assault and the second 17-year-old was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor. Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice said last week that the charges were dropped because there wasn’t enough evidence and Daisy’s family had stopped cooperating.
Melinda Coleman adamantly denies the claim, saying she and her daughter never stopped cooperating and were fully prepared to provide whatever assistance would be needed if the case were reopened.
Charges against the 15-year-old were handled in juvenile court and are not public record.
On Monday, Nodaway County law enforcement officials were preparing for a protest expected Tuesday evening on Maryville’s downtown square. The event is being organized online by at least two activist groups, including one called “Justice for Daisy.”
Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White said portable toilets and podiums would be set up, and other accommodations were being made so protesters could “do what they need to do, then move on.”
The sheriff said he has heard of a possible counter-protest, which could further swell the ranks of people around the square.
“Depending on what figure you look at, it could be upwards of a couple thousand people,” White said. “That’s a whole lot of people to dump downtown all at once.”