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Saturday 30 August 2014

Something about Maryville: The rape scandal that shames America

Why were sex assault allegations against footballer players dropped?

Nikhil Kumar, Independent.co.uk

Published 17/10/2013 | 07:35

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MARYVILLE in Missouri is a place “where roots run deep,” according to the slogan that runs in wavy script across the city’s official insignia. With a population of 12,000 people, it is a small, quiet place, tucked away in rural Nodaway County.

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But this week, it has become the focus of international attention, with the hacktivist group Anonymous demanding an investigation into the way local officials handled a 2012 rape case that is being compared to the now-infamous incident in Steubenville, Ohio, where a pair of high school football players were convicted earlier this year of raping a teenage girl at a party.

The touchpaper was lit at the weekend, when a detailed account of the case involving two teenage girls and two football players from the local high school was published by the Kansas City Star.

Accused of sexually abusing the girls, the two athletes, one of whom came from a politically connected family, were charged soon after the incident in the early hours of 8 January 2012. A 15-year-old boy was also charged in juvenile court. But in March, the local prosecutor decided against pursuing the case against the football players, something that has now led to calls by state officials for a re-examination of the evidence.

The story begins on the evening of 7 January last year, a Saturday. According to The Star, Daisy Coleman, then 14, and a 13-year-old friend were having a sleepover at the former’s house.

In between talking and watching TV, they were sipping from a stash of alcohol hidden in Daisy’s closet.

The 14-year-old had recently moved to Maryville with her mother, Melinda, and her siblings from nearby Albany. Ms Coleman had come seeking a new start for her family after the untimely death of her husband, Michael,  who was killed when his truck was thrown off course by black ice and fell down a ravine.

By January, the family was settling in. At school, Daisy, whose identity was disclosed to local media by Ms Coleman, and who has since appeared on television to speak about the case, had attracted the interest of a 17-year-old football player. That Saturday, as she hung out with her friend, she was texting the footballer, who, accompanied by another boy, eventually came to meet them at around 1am.

According to the published account, Daisy and her friend slipped out of a bedroom window and were driven by the boys to the footballer’s family home three miles away. At the other end, the teenagers met some other friends in the basement, including the 15 year-old boy who was later charged in the case.  Daisy was given a glass of alcohol, and then urged to drink a second glass.  Her 13-year-old friend, while she is reported to have consumed alcohol earlier in the night, denied drinking more after arriving at the footballer’s home.  At some point, she went into a room with the 15-year-old boy who, according to a police interview referenced by The Star, had sex with her despite her saying no and refusing his demand several times.

The 17-year-old, meanwhile, is alleged to have had sex with Daisy who, according to her friend’s account, was crying as she was later carried back to the car. Authorities learnt that the alleged rape was filmed on an iPhone by the second football player, though the video, they say, was not found.

The girls were eventually driven home, with the 13-year-old managing to get back into bed. But Daisy was left out in the cold in 30 degree temperatures, wearing nothing more than a T-shirt and sweatpants.

She was discovered in the morning by her mother, who, when she brought her indoors and undressed her for a bath, noticed signs of assault on her body.

“Immediately,” she told The Star, “I knew what had happened.”

A felony charge of sexual assault and one of endangering the welfare of a child soon followed against the 17-year-old football player. His fellow athlete, who had allegedly filmed the encounter, also faced a felony charge of sexual exploitation of a minor.

But in March 2012, the charges against the two footballers were  suddenly dropped, with Maryville prosecutor Robert Rice citing a lack of evidence.

“As a minister of justice, I have to dismiss the charge when there’s not the evidence there to pursue a criminal case and regardless of what social media or other outlets want to take with that, I will not participate in a public lynching of anybody,” he told a local radio station in July.

Mr Rice could not be reached for further comment. Maryville’s Mayor, Jim Fall, did not return a message seeking comment on the case. But speculation about the outcome has turned to political connections – denied by Mr Rice – between the prosecutor and the 17-year-old footballer’s family.

Now, with Anonymous threatening to take action against the small town if an investigation is not undertaken into the way the allegations were handled, Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor, Peter Kinder, and the speaker of the state legislature, Tim Jones, have called for another look at the case.

Meanwhile, with locals closing ranks around them, and Daisy facing abuse on social media, Ms Coleman and her family have moved out of the Maryville.

Their house, which had been put up for sale after their move, was burnt down in an unexplained fire in April.

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