After blacking out at a party, a 14-year-old Missouri teenager, showing signs of sexual assault, was abandoned, alone and unconscious, on her family's frost-covered lawn by a group of her male classmates.
"The low temperature in the area that day was listed at 22 degrees, and the teen had spent roughly three hours outside, wearing only a T-shirt and sweatpants. Her hair was frozen. Scattered across an adjacent lot were her daughter’s purse, shoes and cellphone," writes Dugan Arnett in a harrowing report in the Kansas City Star on how the small town of Maryville, Mo., turned on the victim, Daisy Coleman (Daisy and her mother elected to be named in the story), after she reported the incident, in which she was allegedly raped by a male classmate while another filmed it.
Melinda Coleman discovered her daughter on the lawn and, after removing her frozen clothes, noticed abrasions on her daughter's body consistent with sexual assault. She immediately called the police. And, in perhaps the only bright spot in this dark story, the police acted swiftly.
More from the Kansas City Star:
Sexual assault cases can be difficult to build because of factors such as a lack of physical evidence or inconsistent statements by witnesses. But by the time his department had concluded its investigation, Sheriff Darren White felt confident the office had put together a case that would “absolutely” result in prosecutions.
“Within four hours, we had obtained a search warrant for the house and executed that,” White told The Star. “We had all of the suspects in custody and had audio/video confessions.
“I would defy the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department to do what we did and get it wrapped up as nicely as we did in that amount of time.”
But the case didn't result in prosecution. Coleman's daughter's alleged rapist, whose name Salon has opted to omit from this story since charges against him were dropped, was the grandson of a powerful former state lawmaker and a member of an otherwise well-connected family, according to the Star. The prosecuting attorney, despite White's confidence about the case, said there wasn't sufficient evidence to go to trial:
Through it all, Coleman held tightly to a belief in justice and that the youths’ punishment would provide closure for the family. She spoke with White on multiple occasions and sat down with Robert Rice, the Nodaway County prosecutor, to discuss her concerns.
“She would come to the sheriff’s office on an almost daily basis,” says White of the days following the arrests.
In early March, however, while awaiting a hearing ... Coleman says, she received a call from a friend with local political ties: The word was that favors were being called in and that the charges would be dropped.
Coleman says she didn’t give the call much credence, but she passed the message on to her lawyer, who wrote to the county prosecutor inquiring about the rumors.
Less than a week later, Coleman was at the grocery store when she got another call.
The felony sexual assault charge against [the alleged rapist] had been dismissed.
Robert Rice, the Nodaway County prosecutor, would go on to call it a case of “incorrigible teenagers” drinking alcohol and having sex. “They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No.”
White, however, maintains there is “no doubt” a crime was committed that night.
Without hope of a trial, the harassment against the Coleman family, which started immediately following the incident, intensified to the point of being unbearable, Melinda told the Star.
Daisy and her older brother received online threats and regular harassment at their high school. Two weeks following the incident, Melinda was fired from her job at a local veterinary clinic. In a subsequent conversation with her former employer about the termination, Melinda was told that the possibility that she might pursue civil charges against her daughter's alleged rapist was “putting stress on everybody in here” and “there’s going to be times when we probably have stuff booked, and you wouldn’t be able to come in.”
The family eventually moved out of Maryville, opting to return to Albany, Mo., where they had lived previously.
Six months later, the Coleman's Maryville home, still on the market to be sold, mysteriously burned down.
“We started to dig in and investigate it,” he said, but the structure was deemed unsafe, said Capt. Phil Rickabaugh of the Maryville Fire Department. “Several weeks later, an insurance investigator came in, and it was heavily investigated by private parties. [But] we never have heard anything else out of that.”