MARYVILLE, Mo. • A 19-year-old Missouri man pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor child endangerment, apologizing to his then-14-year-old victim for his actions after a January 2012 house party.
The evidence was insufficient to support a felony sexual assault charge against Matthew Barnett, said the special prosecutor, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker.
Baker filed the endangerment charge Thursday morning, just hours before Barnett entered court to plead guilty.
Barnett sat silently for much of the hearing before Nodaway County Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich, answering most questions with a simple “yes sir” or “no sir.” His lawyer, J.R. Hobbs of Kansas City, did most of the talking on Barnett’s behalf.
“Matthew Barnett accepts full responsibility for the conduct charged” on Thursday, Hobbs said after the hearing. “To be clear, the misdemeanor charge … accurately reflects the conduct for which he should be held accountable.”
Barnett’s case garnered international outrage in October after The Kansas City Star published a long account of Daisy Coleman’s allegation that Barnett sexually assaulted her at a drunken party. Barnett, who always contended that the sex was consensual, initially faced a felony sexual assault charge as well as a child endangerment misdemeanor charge. Nodaway County’s prosecutor later dropped both charges.
Dietrich sentenced Barnett on Thursday to 120 days of confinement but suspended the execution of sentence and placed Barnett on two years of probation. Additionally, he ordered that Barnett must verbally apologize to Daisy, have no more contact with her, perform 100 hours of community service and reimburse Daisy’s family for her mental health treatment, initially estimated to be about $1,800.
Baker met with Barnett before the hearing to receive the apology, which she will pass along to Daisy.
“This was the outcome we believe was the right and just outcome in this case,” Baker said during a press conference after the hearing.
Without referring to Daisy or her mother, Melinda Coleman, by name, Baker said both supported this resolution of a case that focused a harsh light on teenage drinking and its too-often brutal consequences.
Baker read a statement from Daisy that said: ``Today I am grateful that the defendant took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges. I am ready to move forward.”
A statement from her mother said: “I hope that today’s resolution of this criminal case brings some closure for my family, especially my children, and for the community. … These last two years have been extremely painful. But today I hope somehow, some way that something good will come from this.”
Baker asked that the public give the victim an opportunity to heal and create a new narrative in her life.
Court records filed Thursday gave this account of the incident:
“The defendant acted with criminal negligence in a manner that created a substantial risk to the life, body and health of D.C., a child less than 17 years old, by providing D.C. with alcohol until she was substantially intoxicated and impaired, and then leaving D.C. outside of her home in the below-freezing temperatures when D.C. was incapable of protecting or caring for herself.”
Daisy stayed on the lawn for about three hours, the records said, during a time period that the temperature fell to 21 degrees.
Earlier, after Daisy went to the Barnett residence, “she was provided vodka and was taunted by the other males present to drink from the ‘bitch cup,’ which she did,” the records said. After drinking it, Daisy did not recall any subsequent events. “(She) advised the next thing she remembered was waking up in her yard.”
At about 8 a.m. that morning, more than six hours after she had been left in the cold, Daisy’s blood alcohol content tested at 0.13 percent, court records said.
A six-page Missouri Highway Patrol report summarized the agency’s re-investigation of the case, which the patrol did at Baker’s request. It includes parts of an interview with Daisy, during which she was asked whether Barnett could have “been under the impression the reported sexual contact could have been consensual.”
According to the report, Daisy answered: “He was drinking, too, so yeah, he could have.”
In the original Nodaway County sheriff’s report, which was sealed following the dismissal of the original charges but obtained by the Star, multiple witnesses told authorities that Daisy, incapacitated, crying and unable to walk, had to be carried from the Barnett residence. She was driven home, where, two witnesses said, she was left on her lawn.
According to two boys in the car, Barnett and a friend then talked about calling one of Daisy’s brothers and telling him they had found Daisy drunk at a party and had dropped her off at home. The goal, according to one of the youths, was to keep anybody from finding out they’d had sex with Daisy and her 13-year-old friend.
A 15-year-old Nodaway County boy later admitted in juvenile court that he had sexually assaulted the 13-year-old.
A third youth initially faced a charge of sexual exploitation of a minor after admitting to taking a cell-phone video of Daisy and Barnett. That video never has surfaced and that charge was not refiled Thursday.
“We tried to obtain the video, and without the video, there is no charge,” Baker said Thursday.
About two dozen reporters attended the 20-minute court hearing.
The suspicion that drove local interest in the case was that political influence had played a part in Rice’s decision to drop the charges, an accusation Rice repeatedly has denied.
Rice is a Republican. Barnett is the grandson of a once-prominent Nodaway County Republican state legislator.
Baker is a Democrat, as is the judge who appointed her.
Asked whether Thursday’s court hearing vindicated Rice, she told reporters, “That would be your analysis.”
Barnett’s attorney responded more strongly.
“Two highly skilled prosecutors from two different jurisdictions have now independently concluded that felony charges are not appropriate in this matter,” Hobbs said. “Further, there is absolutely no evidence that political favoritism played a role in the decision of either prosecutor.”
Daisy, now 16, was hospitalized in Kansas City earlier this week after a purported suicide attempt, a family friend told the Star. That friend, Robin Bourland, said Daisy ingested pills Sunday evening in an incident that stemmed from online harassment.