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Special prosecutor sought in Missouri teen sex-assault case

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri prosecutor, who dropped a case against a high school football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, asked for an independent review of the case on Wednesday to determine if charges should be refiled.

Nodaway County Prosecutor Bob Rice had said the case stemming from a January 2012 party in Maryville, Missouri, was dropped because there was not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Rice said he decided to seek another review after seeing a CNN television interview Tuesday with four witnesses who said they were willing to cooperate and testify in the case. Rice said those witnesses had not agreed to cooperate before.

"I have asked the court to appoint a special prosecuting attorney to conduct an independent review of the facts and determine whether to refile charges," Rice told a news conference.

A months-long investigation of the case published Sunday in the Kansas City Star focused national attention on Maryville. Online activist group Anonymous demanded authorities investigate the handling of the case.

A former football player in northwest Missouri is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old at a party in 2012 and another is accused of videotaping the assault. The incident has been compared to the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, by high school football players.

Rice had said in a statement Tuesday the criminal case was hampered because, "The state's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their 5th Amendment privilege to not testify."

Rice said it would be up to a judge to determine if an independent prosecutor should be appointed and who should be named to the post. Rice said he made the request because witnesses said they would be willing to testify, and he wanted to maintain trust in the justice system.

The Kansas City Star reported that a 17-year-old former football player from a prominent local family admitted having sex with the teenager after providing her with alcohol, but said the sex was consensual. He was originally charged with felony sex assault, but the charges were dropped.

Another former football player, also 17, was accused of videotaping part of the incident with an iPhone and was charged with felony sexual exploitation of a minor, the Star said. The football players have since graduated.

The girl and her mother, Melinda Coleman, have spoken about the case publicly in interviews with the Star and other media. The court records from the closed case have been sealed.

Melinda Coleman told the Star that many people in Maryville, a city of about 12,000, turned on her daughter and family after they pursued the case and the family moved out of town after repeated threats and harassment.

Maryville City Manager Greg McDaniel said a special prosecutor was a needed step for the community, which he said has been under intense criticism and cyber threats this week.

"This was an unfortunate incident that cast a shadow over our community," McDaniel told a news conference. "With an independent review of the facts, we can hopefully find some resolution to the case that will allow for the healing of all parties involved."

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy and Brendan O'Brien; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)

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