The XX Factor

The Internet Gets Results: Missouri Lt. Governor Calls for Grand Jury in Maryville Rape Case

The Internet gets results when it is outraged by an alleged rape gone unpunished. It took barely two days of simmering anger after a deeply reported story appeared in the Kansas City Star about the dismissal of criminal charges, in Maryville, Missouri, against a high school football player, Matthew Barnett, who was accused of getting 14-year-old Daisy Coleman drunk to the point of unconscious, and sexually assaulting her. Anonymous got involved, and two hashtags sprang up on Twitter: #OpMaryville and #Justice4Daisy. Anonymous members demanded an immediate investigation of the decision to drop the charges and circulated plans for a live demonstration. They targeted county prosecutor Robert Rice, insisting that he reopen the case. They also called on Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to make Rice do so.

As the city manager’s office in Maryville, a town of 12,000, found itself buried in a sea of calls, emails, and social media comments, Koster’s office said he did “not have the authority under the laws of the state of Missouri to review a prosecutor’s discretionary decisions in particular cases.” That didn’t make a lot of sense to one of the Anons who started the hashtags. When I talked to him this afternoon, he pointed out that there’s formal power, and then there’s influence.

True. On Tuesday evening, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder called for a grand jury to convene in the Daisy Coleman case.

I am disappointed that the Attorney General would wash his hands of the matter through a brief statement by a spokesman,” Kinder said in a statement. “The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look. I call on Attorney General Koster and Prosecutor Rice to join me in asking that the Circuit Court convene a grand jury to review all the evidence, hear all witnesses, and issue a decision as to whether charges should ensue.

Kinder’s statement on its own doesn’t mean there will be a grand jury, necessarily. But the politics suggest it’s likely. Kinder is a Republican. Koster is a Democrat (he switched parties in 2007). Now there will be pressure on him to respond. (Update, Oct. 15: Missouri House Speaker Timothy Jones, another Republican, has also called on Koster to investigate.)

This follows a similar turnabout in Nova Scotia, in the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

That’s another horrible story of a girl saying she’d been raped by four boys after drinking to the point where she couldn’t remember what was happening. After months of investigation, prosecutors said no charges would be brought, even though a photo had circulated widely of one boy having sex with Rehtaeh.  Then came the social media uproar, also fueled by Anonymous, and police finally brought child pornography charges against two of the boys involved.

There is also Steubenville, where a combination of a New York Times story, local blogging, and the engagement of Anonymous helped turn another teenage sexual assault into a national story. (Though in Steubenville, the police arrested two boys less than two weeks after the assault—early on, not after the activism took off.)

Those boys were later convicted. A grand jury should indeed take a close look at the evidence about what happened to Daisy Coleman. The Internet will surely be watching.