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Was justice served in the Maryville rape case? Nearly two years ago on a cold January night, then 14-year-old Daisy Coleman snuck out her mother's home in the small Missouri town to party with some teenage boys. What happened next has been the subject of criminal charges, dueling stories and a flurry of national headlines. KCUR broke this story in July. Since then, we have offered comprehensive coverage.

KC Democrat Named To Reinvestigate Maryville Rape Case

Jean Peters Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, was named Monday to launch a second investigation into a controversial rape case in Maryville, Mo.

Baker, a Democrat and former state legislator from Kansas City, Mo., was chosen for the high-profile job after online outrage focused on the case of Daisy Coleman, a then-14-year-old Maryville girl who says she was raped by a 17-year-old boy in January 2012.

Although Matthew Barnett was initially charged with rape, the charge was dropped by Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice just three months later.  KCUR broke the story in July.

Last week, Anonymous, the Internet “hacktivist” group that leaked the video in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, triggered the online outrage when it urged its supporters to rally for Coleman, telling its 1.2 million Twitter followers to use the hashtag #Justice4Daisy.

Baker was named prosecutor in 2011 in an office where she started as an intern. She’s worked in several of the agency's units over the last 14 years, including a stint in sex crimes.  Her bio is here.

In a late afternoon press conference, Baker said she would review the case "without fear and without favor."

"I know that this case has raised a variety of concerns in northwest Missouri, so please know this: This case will be thoroughly reviewed," she said.

"I can also assure you that politics, connections or any other reason you can think of will not play a role in our review of this case. It will be the evidence, as it is in every case that we review."

Steve Kraske, longtime political reporter and host of KCUR's "Up to Date," said Baker is a highly respected prosecutor and lawmaker. Baker is a protege of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and is expected to run for statewide office in the future, Kraske said.

"She's also seen as someone who has some ambition," he said. "Her name has been at least mentioned in Democratic circles as maybe interested in running for attorney general some day."

Rice has said that the rape charges were dropped in March 2012 because of insufficient evidence and an unwillingness on the part of the victims and their families to cooperate, a charge they deny.

But many people in Maryville wondered whether Rice, a member of the GOP, ended the case because Barnett's grandfather, Rex Barnett, was a prominent former Republican lawmaker. Rice and Barnett deny the accusation.

Last week, Rice petitioned Judge Glen Dietrich, the lone Democrat in the judicial district, to name a special prosecutor. Kraske said it appears the Nodaway County officials seem to have learned the value of public appearances.

"The Democratic judge picking a woman -- a very smart move here given not only the outrage in Missouri but really the outrage across the country. Clearly they want to change the PR dynamics here," he said.

Most recently, Baker brought charges against the Catholic bishop and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on charges of failing to report child abuse.

"Talk about courage. Bringing charges against someone like the bishop of Kansas City, a Catholic bishop, was a gutsy move," Kraske said. "Boy, that took some nerve."

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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