Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Thursday that Matthew Barnett would not be charged with the rape of teen Daisy Coleman, almost exactly two years to the day Coleman was reportedly left alone and intoxicated on her front steps by Barnett. Barnett was, however, charged with endangering the welfare of a child and has plead guilty. He will serve two years probation.
Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice originally planned to charge Barnett, who was 17 at the time of the alleged events but is now 19, with endangering the welfare of a child. That charge, like the potential rape charge, was dropped. The case was reopened late last year after a Kansas City Star article was published revealing speculation that Rice's office had been pressured by Barnett's politically connected grandfather to make the case go away, and Baker was appointed the new prosecutor. On Wednesday, Baker announced that she would be appearing at court to offer an update on how the case was developing.
The defendant acted with criminal negligence in a manner that created a substantial risk to the life, body and health of D.C., a child less than 17 years old, by providing D.C. with alcohol until she was substantially intoxicated and impaired, and then leaving D.C. outside of her home in the below-freezing temperatures when D.C. was incapable of protecting or caring for herself.
Though the Nodaway County Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich sentenced Barnett to 120 days in jail, by entering a plea deal, Barnett agreed to do 100 hours of community service, pay $1,800 to Daisy and her family (money that will go to make sure Daisy is "getting appropriate mental health treatment") and said he will not contact the Colemans. He will also attend a substance abuse evaluation and not imbibe alcohol or go to establishments that sell it; according to the investigation summary, Barnett was previously convicted for a DUI In July 2012. Lastly, Barnett gave a verbal apology to Baker, which was relayed to Daisy and her family. His conviction for this misdemeanor charge will remain on his record.
Barnett's lawyer J.R. Hobbs said that the apology had been successfully relayed, a fact that Baker confirmed at the press conference; she called it "genuine and heartfelt." "That was a condition of the plea agreement and it's been sincerely and faithfully exercised, " said Hobbs, adding that they were "satisfied" with the results of the investigation.
"This is another example where the rule of law has been fairly applied....We can only hope that the readers will understand the time and energy that has been given to this resolution."
Baker spoke much more thoroughly, showing extreme concern for Daisy, who she said she would not name in an attempt to try and allow her to regain anonymity, if that was even possible:
Today for Nodaway County, for the citizens of this town and Maryville, this is a good day. It's an opportunity for this town to heal. But what this day is really about is a very very young victim. And one of the things we generally get to offer victims through this process is their anonymity. I intend to do that today and try to restore that today, though I'm not sure that will happen.
When asked why Barnett had not been charged with felony endangerment (which would have meant that Barnett intended to hurt Daisy), Baker said that had been on the table, but it became clear during negotiations that if the case went to trial, they would have ended up with a misdemeanor anyway, explaining, "After a long trial and further dividing of community we'd end up here." According to Baker, testimony from Daisy and the rape kit wasn't enough evidence, which is also why her office didn't try to charge Barnett with sexual assault. "Without that video, there is no charge there," she said, referring to a tape that once apparently existed but has since been deleted of Barnett having sex with Daisy without her consent:
As a prosecutor, I am telling you, I stand here by my oath always. And my job is to analyze evidence. In this case there was insufficient evidence to go forward on a sexual assault...that's what this case boiled down to: the evidence.
She also added that the plea deal "protects this young victim from having to go into this very courtroom and testify," though said if there had been evidence available that would have allowed her to file a felony sexual assault charge, "I would have done it."
In a statement, Daisy and her mother Melinda said that they wanted to thank all those who had supported their family. "Today I am grateful that the defendant took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges. I am ready to move forward," said Daisy. "To all those that supported me, I promise that what happened on January 8, 2012 will not define me forever,"
Her mother Melinda, who spent much of this week posting upset Facebook messages about Daisy's attempt to commit suicide and the treatment her daughter had been receiving by various media sources, added that she hoped the conviction gave closure to her children and her community. "All of us need to come together in a more positive way."
Screenshot via KHSB