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Originally published January 9, 2014 at 6:35 PM | Page modified January 10, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Mo. man in publicized rape case pleads guilty to misdemeanor

While the misdemeanor child-endangerment charge to which Matthew Barnett, 19, pleaded guilty fell short of the felony sexual-assault count they thought he deserved, Daisy Coleman and her mother said they’re hoping for closure.

The Associated Press

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MARYVILLE, Mo. — Two years and a day after a northwest Missouri high-school freshman said she was raped by an older schoolmate at a party, the girl and her mother said they are satisfied that her assailant has been held accountable for his actions.

While the misdemeanor child-endangerment charge to which Matthew Barnett, 19, pleaded guilty Thursday fell short of the felony sexual-assault count they thought he deserved, Daisy Coleman and her mother, Melinda Coleman, said they’re hoping for closure after two painful years.

“I am ready to move forward,” Daisy Coleman, now 16, said in a statement provided by special prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “To all those who supported me, I promise that what happened on Jan. 8, 2012, will not define me forever.”

Barnett’s plea agreement, accepted Thursday by Nodaway County Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich, means he won’t have to spend time in jail nor face trial for sexual assault. It also means Daisy Coleman — who has spoken extensively with the media about her experience, especially since The Kansas City Star detailed her claims in a story in October after a seven-month investigation — won’t have to testify in court and be grilled by defense attorneys.

Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, was brought in from Kansas City to reopen the case amid criticism that Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice wasn’t doing enough when he dismissed a felony charge against Barnett and instead pursued only a misdemeanor child-endangerment charge against the Maryville native.

Melinda Coleman alleged that Rice’s decision to drop the case was politically motivated: Barnett’s grandfather was a four-term Missouri state representative who was a state trooper for 32 years.

Rice denied that, insisting the charge was dropped because the Colemans stopped cooperating. Melinda Coleman said she and her daughter cooperated with Rice’s office when he was seeking a felony conviction, and only dropped their support because they saw the misdemeanor count as little more than a slap on the wrist.

On Jan. 8, 2012, Daisy Coleman, then 14, and her 13-year-old friend sneaked out of her house and were picked up by Barnett and some other boys, including some who were friends of her older brother, and taken to Barnett’s home. The girls admitted that they drank alcohol before sneaking out.

Coleman claimed that when she got to the party, she was given a clear liquid that she drank before being taken into a bedroom and raped while a second boy recorded the act on his cellphone. Investigators have said the video no longer exists.

The 13-year-old was taken into a different room by a 15-year-old boy who forced her to have sex, something the boy admitted doing. His case was handled in the juvenile system and is not public record.

Coleman said she blacked out and doesn’t remember much after arriving at the Barnett home. Melinda Coleman has said she believes her daughter was given a date-rape drug.

Barnett has not denied the two had sex but has insisted it was consensual. A Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation summary released Thursday said the girl told investigators it was possible Barnett thought the sex was consensual since he had also been drinking that night.

After more than two months of examining the evidence, Baker came to the same conclusion as Rice: The evidence of a sexual assault was insufficient to gain a conviction on that count. “It is not the job of a prosecutor to seek convictions. It is the job of the prosecutor to seek justice,” Baker said. “I believe this is the right outcome, given the evidence available in this case. This is justice.”

Barnett was sentenced immediately after his plea Thursday to two years of probation and a four-month suspended jail term. Other conditions of the deal bar him from drinking, going to bars and contacting the Colemans. He must perform 100 hours of community service and, as a precondition to the plea bargain, had to apologize to Daisy Coleman, which he has provided to Baker’s office.

The Colemans didn’t attend the hearing.

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