Prosecutor clears way for new charges in Maryville sex assault case

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01/09/2014 2:32 PM

05/16/2014 10:29 AM

Embattled Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert L. Rice on Wednesday announced that he had cleared the way for the possibility of new charges being filed in a sexual assault case that has received international attention.

In a news conference outside the county courthouse in Maryville, Rice said he had asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor in the case.

“The public trust in our criminal justice system must be upheld at all times,” he said.

He said he decided to ask for the special prosecutor after witnesses in the case said this week that they would cooperate with the investigation.

“Until that time,” Rice said Wednesday, “the witnesses never told me they were willing to cooperate and testify after they invoked their Fifth Amendment right in a deposition under oath.”

Rice’s account of the witnesses’ cooperation differs from that of Melinda Coleman, mother of one alleged victim, who contended in a story in The Star on Sunday and other media appearances this week that she had willingly spoken with authorities until Rice dropped the two most serious felony charges in March 2012, two months after he’d filed them.

Coleman was happy to hear that the case would have another look.

“I feel like that’s just so great,” she told The Star after Rice’s announcement. “Because at least we’re getting a fair shot. At least our story’s getting heard and not just swept under the rug.”

At his news conference, Rice said the Colemans’ refusal to testify was taken “under oath with a court reporter.” Because the case remains closed, its documents are sealed.

“Trust me when I say I would love to show you that document,” Rice said.

Rice declined to give the date of the deposition or to clarify whether the witnesses’ invocation of their Fifth Amendment rights occurred before the felony charges were dropped.

“What I assure you is this,” Rice said of the Colemans. “Their cooperation was not there.”

He said the deposition shows that the family clearly understood that he would have to dismiss the case.

“We were very careful, very deliberate,” he said, “to make sure we recorded that there was no misunderstanding. That, at that time, when they invoked their Fifth Amendment right, by doing so it would force the dismissal of the case.”

Coleman says Rice never adequately explained his decision to drop the felony charges in March 2012.

A letter written to Rice by Coleman’s attorney on March 19, a week after the charges had been dismissed, states: “I called your office multiple times last week in an attempt to obtain accurate information so that I could explain your decision to my client. You did not return my telephone calls.”