Shameful politicizing of the Maryville teen sex case

10/16/2013 2:21 PM

10/16/2013 6:39 PM

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder jumped into the Maryville teen sex uproar

with both feet yesterday.

He had the right idea when he called on Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice to convene a grand jury to review the facts of the case in a closed courtroom and decide whether criminal charges are warranted. Had Rice followed that route in the first place his county might not be the focus of worldwide Internet outrage right now.

But then Kinder had to go and get all political.

“I was shocked and dismayed at the attorney general’s statement last night that ‘nothing to see here, move right along,’” he said, referring to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2016 and a big target for GOP politicians like Kinder.

Actually, Koster didn’t say anything like that. His only official comment has been a statement from a spokeswoman contending that, under Missouri law, “the Attorney General's office does not have the authority ... to review a prosecutor’s discretionary decisions in particular cases. Charging decisions in criminal cases are exclusively within the discretion of elected county prosecutors in Missouri.”

Another Republican politician, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, also spoke up on Tuesday, disputing Koster’s interpretation and saying he thinks state law leaves room for the attorney general to intervene in a case like the one in Maryville, where there are suspicions that charges were dropped against two teenage athletes because of their and their families’ status in town.

The best way to clarify that issue would be through new legislation, which the General Assembly could get to as early as January. The events that took place in Maryville provide good reasons for giving the state attorney general statutory authority to review the decisions of local prosectors in limited instances.

Kinder was also right when he said in a formal statement that “these questions will fester and taint the reputation of our state for delivering impartial justice to all.” Rice’s decision to drop charges filed against two 17-year-old boys, one accused of sexual assault and the other charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, was very questionable. The victim of the alleged sexual assault, a 14-year-old girl, has been bullied and ostracized. Her family was forced to leave town, and after they did their home in Maryville burned down from a cause as yet unidentified. She deserved better from the criminal justice system.

But Kinder, in statements to

The Star and to other media outlets, including Dana Loesch Radio

, seems more concerned about Koster’s response than he does about the victims in the case. Apart from stating that “the appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience...” he saves most of his outrage for the attorney general.

There is plenty of reason to be outraged by what happened in Maryville. But the situation won’t be helped at all by grandstanding politicians trying to score points from a tragedy. What’s called for here is quiet, behind-the-scenes work that will give Rice a path to reopening the case. I hope that’s what Koster, as Missouri’s top law enforcement official, is doing right now.

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