MARYVILLE, Mo. — It’s over. Finally.
At least from a legal standpoint.
But Anonymous isn’t happy. Neither are many people making comments on social media.
Matthew Barnett, accused of sexually assaulting Daisy Coleman two years ago when he was a high school senior and she a 14-year-old freshman, pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon in the Nodaway County Courthouse to the misdemeanor charge of child endangerment.
“This was the outcome we believe was the right and just outcome in this case,” special prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said to around two dozen reporters gathered on the snowy sidewalk in front of the courthouse after the hearing.
Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich suspended a sentence of four months in the county jail and imposed two years of probation, with seven special conditions: No alcohol, no contact with the victim, 100 hours of community service, restitution of $1,800 for counseling services for the victim, drug testing, substance abuse counseling and — this may be the most important one — acknowledgement of wrongdoing to the victim in the form of a verbal apology delivered by the Jackson County prosecutor.
That apology was “heartfelt” and “genuine,” Peters Baker said during the press conference.
Missing were any sexual assault charges in the case that has captured international attention since the Kansas City Star broke the story in October, fueling a social media frenzy and sparking the interest of the hacktivist group Anonymous, which declared war on the city of Maryville in a series of tweets.
Peters Baker said there was “insufficient evidence” to file sexual assault charges. “Our system … works because it’s evidence-based,” she said. “We may not always like the outcome.”
“In the US it’s only misdemeanor child endangerment if you rape a child,” tweeted Anonymous as @AnonCentral. “Good job America.”
One advantage of today’s hearing, with Barnett’s guilty plea, is the avoidance of a lengthy trial and the need for the victim to testify. “She would not just face my questions but those of the defense counsel,” Peters Baker pointed out.
Even a felony charge of child endangerment, which Peters Baker said had “been on the table,” would most likely have resulted in a trial, as well.
She asked the Missouri Highway Patrol to reinvestigate the case, and a six-page report includes an interview with Daisy in which the girl was asked whether Barnett might have believed the sex could be consensual.
She is quoted as saying, “He was drinking, too, so yeah, he could have.”
The story began two years ago Wednesday, when then 14-year-old Daisy and a friend sneaked out of her mother’s house outside the city limits of Maryville to go to Barnett’s home.
After an alcohol-fueled party, Barnett left Daisy outside her house, too intoxicated to go inside in 20-degree temperatures. She was found by her mother, who said her daughter’s hair was frozen.
Although charges of both sexual assault and child endangerment were originally filed by Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice, they were dropped because of a lack of cooperation by the Colemans, he said.
Daisy and her family have since left Maryville to return to their home town of Albany, Mo., 40 miles to the east. Daisy attempted suicide Sunday and is hospitalized in Kansas City, Mo.
Peters Baker said that the victim’s mother had hoped to attend the hearing but chose to be with her hospitalized daughter instead. She emphasized that the victim and her mother had cooperated with her as she walked through the evidence.
The identity of rape victims is usually kept private, but in this case Daisy Coleman and her mother came forward to publicize their case, hoping to find some sort of justice.
Peters Baker tried to return to the practice of anonymity for rape victims, referring to her only as “Victim DC,” and asking the media to allow her to have privacy and to heal.
“At the very heart of this case is a very young girl,” Peters Baker said. “She’s been at the heart of my concern.”
She read statements from the victim and her mother. “Today I hope somehow, some way that something good will come from this,” Melinda Coleman said in a written statement.
What is most hopeful today, though, was the statement from Daisy, who thanked people for their support. “I am grateful that the defendant took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges,” she wrote. “I am ready to move forward … I promise that what happened on January 8, 2012, will not define me forever.”
As Peters Baker concluded her remarks, she asked the media to leave Daisy Coleman alone. “Give her the opportunity to heal and to write her next chapter,” she said.
But there is no good ending for this story.