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Special Prosecutor to Look at Controversial Mo. Rape Case

"The point is there seemed to be too many questions out there about this case for it to just be suddenly closed."

This Oct. 9, 2013 photo shows the Nodaway County Courthouse in downtown Maryville, Mo. Melinda Coleman, of Maryville, says she and her family never stopped cooperating with investigators in the alleged sexual assault of her daughter, despite a county prosecutor's statement to the contrary. Credit: AP

MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- A northwest Missouri prosecutor announced Wednesday that he's asking for a special prosecutor to look at the case of a 14-year-old girl who says she was plied with alcohol and raped by a 17-year-old acquaintance.

Melinda Coleman, the mother of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman, claims justice was denied when Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice dropped felony charges against the 17-year-old boy last March, two months after Coleman found her daughter passed out on the family's front porch in below-freezing temperatures.

Melinda Coleman listens to a question during an interview in her home in Albany, Mo., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Credit: AP

The county sheriff and Rice have insisted their investigation collapsed after the Colemans became uncooperative with investigators and refused to answer questions. Coleman says she and her daughter did cooperate and that investigators didn't do enough to push the case forward.

Rice stood behind his earlier statements at a news conference Wednesday but said he was asking a court to appoint a special prosecutor because of publicity surrounding the case and recent media stories questioning the integrity of the justice system in the county. Rice said the special prosecutor will investigate the case and decide whether charges will be refiled.

The case has drawn international attention to the small northwest Missouri town of Maryville after The Kansas City Star on Sunday published the results of a seven-month investigation. The newspaper's story described a town where many appeared to be closing ranks around the accused and blaming the girl.

The incident happened last January, when Daisy and a friend left the Colemans' house to meet some boys.

Daisy's 13-year-old friend also said she was forced to have sex with a 15-year-old at the same house, while another 17-year-old allegedly recorded the incident on a cellphone. The 15-year-old was charged in the juvenile system. Charges against the 17-year-old who allegedly videotaped the incident were also dropped last March.

Daisy said the boys gave her alcohol and she doesn't remember much of what happened next. The boys said the sex was consensual.

Rice has said there wasn't enough evidence to pursue the charges because the accusers had stopped cooperating and asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Rice said Wednesday that he had been concerned about the Colemans' decision and so he had asked that they assert their Fifth Amendment right under oath in a deposition. He said he couldn't release the deposition because it's a closed record.

Asked to speculate on the accusers' reasoning, Rice said, "I can't go into their minds. I don't know. I can tell you this: We were very careful, very deliberate to make sure that they recorded that there was no misunderstanding, that they understood that at that time when they invoked their Fifth Amendment right that by doing so was going to force the dismissal of the case, that they understood that."

Coleman has told news outlets that she and her daughter are prepared to fully cooperate with investigators.

Robert Sundell, who represented the teen accused of assaulting Daisy, was out of the office Wednesday and didn't immediately return phone message left before and after the news conference.

This Oct. 9, 2013 photo shows the Nodaway County Courthouse in downtown Maryville, Mo. Credit: AP

The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual assault but is naming Daisy Coleman because she and her mother have been granting public interviews about the case. The AP is not naming the boys because there are no longer active charges against them.

The case has drawn comparisons to one in Steubenville, Ohio, where two 17-year-old high school football players were convicted of raping a West Virginia girl after an alcohol-fueled party in 2012. The case was furiously debated online and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the city's celebrated football team.

Before Rice's announcement Wednesday, pressure had been building on Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to intervene. Koster's office has said it had no authority under state law to reopen the investigation on its own.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican who had called on the Democratic attorney general to step in, said the decision to seek a special prosecutor is good progress.

"However we get to the point of examining this matter more closely is really irrelevant to me," said Jones. "The point is there seemed to be too many questions out there about this case for it to just be suddenly closed."

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