October 17, 2013

Mother of alleged victim in Maryville case releases secret recordings

The recordings seem to confirm her claims that she cooperated with authorities through the time when the prosecutor dropped felony charges against a teen who had been accused of sexual assault.

Secret recordings made by the mother of an alleged victim in the Maryville, Mo., sexual assault case now headed to a special prosecutor seem to confirm her claims that she cooperated with authorities through the time when felony charges were dropped.

Melinda Coleman, the mother of a girl who says she was sexually assaulted in January 2012 by a then-17-year-old from a prominent Maryville family, provided the recordings to The Star via email Thursday.

The recordings, she said, came from a conversation near the end of May 2012 with Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert L. Rice. She said they support her contention 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.

Rice could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

In announcing that he would request a special prosecutor in the case, Rice said in a news conference Wednesday that charges against the alleged perpetrator and another then-17-year-old had been dropped because “the witnesses never told me they were willing to cooperate and testify after they invoked their Fifth Amendment right in a deposition under oath.”

He wouldn’t provide the date of that deposition, saying the documents are sealed because the case remains closed pending the special prosecutor’s review.

Coleman said she did invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination on one occasion.

That happened near the end of May 2012, she said, about two months after the felony counts were dropped, in a deposition with Rice regarding a remaining misdemeanor charge.

Coleman told The Star on Thursday that she invoked the Fifth not out of fear of potential prosecution but as a way of shielding her daughter from having to relive the incident with only the misdemeanor count still pending.

“At that point, I was so worried about her mental health,” Coleman said.

Within a day, she changed her mind about invoking the Fifth, she said, and went to Rice’s office to tell him she would cooperate.

She secretly taped that conversation, she said, and provided to The Star on Thursday what she indicated were the five relevant excerpts from those recordings “because Rice keeps saying that we were unwilling to testify and that we pleaded the Fifth, and I wanted to show what the real timetable was.”

Coleman told The Star the recordings did not reflect the full conversation. The quality of the recordings was frequently clear, but some words and phrases were unintelligible.

In one of the excerpts, Coleman is heard saying, “We were always willing to testify” and raising the possibility that perhaps she and her daughter had missed an earlier deposition.

Rice is clearly heard in another clip telling Coleman, “You haven’t missed a deposition at all. The only deposition was this one, and that was where it was explained to me that you were claiming the Fifth.”

In another recording, Rice tells Coleman, “We’ll get this thing going again. ... We’ll get another deposition set up, but it’ll probably be July.”

He tells her that if she can arrange for her daughter to be there to talk then, too, “that would be great.”

That exchange sounds especially cordial, with Coleman indicating she prefers to talk directly with Rice moving forward.

“I’m tired of the rumors and not getting the truth,” she said. “At least I feel if I’m talking with you I’m getting the truth.”

Coleman told The Star earlier this week that she and her daughter participated in a July deposition with Rice and defense lawyer Robert Sundell.

She said she did not return to sign the transcripts. Soon afterward, Rice dropped the final charge in the case, the misdemeanor.

The case has been the subject of intense attention since a Star story on Sunday detailed the alleged sexual assault of then-14-year-old Daisy Coleman and a 13-year-old friend on Jan. 8, 2012.

Matthew Barnett, the grandson of a once-prominent Nodaway County politician, was originally arrested and charged with felony sexual assault and misdemeanor endangerment of a child in connection with the incident with Daisy.

Barnett, who has been attending college, said the encounter with Daisy was consensual, although county law enforcement officials said they had obtained audio and video confessions.

Another 17-year-old, Jordan Zech, was charged with felony sexual exploitation of a minor for allegedly videotaping the sexual encounter. A 15-year-old boy was charged in juvenile court for having nonconsensual sex with Daisy’s friend.

About two months after the alleged assault, Rice dismissed the felony charges against Barnett and Zech, claiming a lack of evidence and additional information brought to his attention about the encounter.

Coleman maintained that a friend with local political ties told her a week earlier that favors were being called in and that the charges would be dropped.

Rice has denied any political influence on his decision.

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