This is the footballer at the centre of the small town rape scandal that has exploded into the national headlines and attracted hacktivists Anonymous, amid allegations of cover-up, politicking and victim-blaming so extreme that the girl has twice attempted suicide and her family have been driven out of town.
In April, eight months after they left Maryville, Missouri, the scene of the alleged crime, the family’s home – then on the market – was razed in a suspicious fire, the cause of which remains unknown.
Today 19-year-old Matthew Barnett, pictured here, is a student at the University of Central Missouri after all charges against him were dropped.
He was a popular senior at Maryville High School, Missouri – and the scion of a prominent political family – when he was accused of sexually assaulting 14-year-old Daisy Coleman at his home while his friend, Jordan Zech, then 17, filmed it on an iPhone.
A boy of 15 was accused of doing the same in another room with Daisy’s 13-year-old friend.
The Colemans moved from Albany to Maryville in hopes of a fresh start three years ago. Daisy’s physician father, Michael had been killed when the car he was driving hit black ice and plummeted into a ravine. Daisy, then 10, and her brother, Logan, then 9, were in the car but escaped.
As a family they had hoped that the move would help them leave behind something of the grief that followed.
Hoping for a fresh start: Daisy Coleman was 14 when the alleged assault too place. She and her family had moved to Maryville, Missouri following the death of her father and hoped to make a fresh start there
Instead they have now returned to Albany, forced out of Maryville by a nightmare of caustic cyber-bullying and public shunning so brutal that Daisy self-harmed and twice attempted suicide.
The first Daisy’s mother knew anything was amiss was when she found her daughter lying, nearly unconscious in the frost on the family’s front lawn. It was 8 January 2012, Daisy’s hair was frozen and her hands and feet frostbitten.
‘F*** yea. That’s what you get for bein a skank :)’
Tweet posted in response to Daisy’s allegation of rape
Mrs Coleman carried her daughter inside and undressed her to give her a warm bath. She saw that Daisy was bruised and red and the teenager started to cry.
Speaking to the Kansas City Star’s Dugan Arnett, whose investigative reporting has propelled this case into the public eye, Mrs Coleman said simply: ‘Immediately I knew what had happened.’
In an interview with CNN she said: ‘It wasn’t until I undressed her to put her in a warm tub that I realised that maybe she had been sexually assaulted.
‘So I asked her if she was hurting and she said ,”Yes” and started to cry.’
In the same interview Mrs Coleman insisted that Daisy had told police everything from hospital and denied that charges were dropped because she was unwilling to testify.
Investigative records copied by Mrs Coleman before they were sealed and shared with the Kansas City Star, tell the sorry tale of what Daisy and her friend claim happened that night – much of it corroborated by their alleged assailants who admitted to having sex with the girls but claimed it was consensual.
United front: Melinda and Daisy Coleman appeared together on CNN to speak of their ongoing ordeal and hopes for the future
Matthew Barnett, grandson of former Missouri House of Representatives Rex Barnett, had been texting Daisy, flirting with the pretty blonde cheerleader three years his junior.
Whether she knew that he had one DUI charge against him is unclear but Barnett had a reputation locally for being a bit wild.
He texted on the night of 7 January last year when Daisy and her friend were having a sleepover at the Coleman house.
The girls were doing what teenage girls do – listening to music, giggling and chatting in Daisy’s room and, unbeknown to her mother, sipping from a secret stash of alcohol.
Daisy Coleman regularly competed in beauty pageants and almost invariably brought home a prize thanks to her blonde good looks and winning smile. In the aftermath of the ‘attack’ she lost all confidence
At 1am they slipped unnoticed from Daisy’s bedroom and were picked up by Barnett and a friend who drove them the three miles to Barnett’s home.
What happened there is now the subject of much controversy. Daisy was plied with alcohol – so much that she told investigative officers she had no memory beyond drinking ‘a big glass of clear stuff,’ and waking in the frost the next morning.
Her 13-year-old friend did not drink at Barnett’s house and provided officers with a detailed and harrowing account of the night.
Too drunk to physically resist though she repeatedly said, ‘No’ she recalled being raped by the 15-year-old who she knew. Back in the common area of the basement she recalled that Daisy was unable to walk or speak and had to be carried from the bedroom.
At 2am the boys drove Daisy and her friend back to the Coleman house. They told the 13-year-old to go inside while they watched over Daisy until she sobered up. Instead they abandoned her – leaving her to freeze as temperatures dropped to -22 degrees.
Mrs Coleman wasted no time in taking her daughter to the hospital and reporting the alleged crimes. Daisy’s 13-year old friend was also seen by doctors and both girls submitted to Rape Kit testing.
Hospital tests around 9am that morning, roughly seven hours after the alleged assault, showed Daisy’s blood alcohol content was still at 0.13. That’s high enough to cause ‘gross motor impairment, loss of control, blurred vision and loss of balance.’
The boys were promptly brought in for questioning at Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office. Barnett admitted to having sex but said it was consensual. Zech admitted to filming but claimed there was nothing more than ‘dry humping’ going on – the other teenager present disputed that.
Remains of the day: The charred skeleton of the Coleman’s former family home in Maryville, Missouri. Firefighters were forced to stop investigations into the cause of the blaze when the ruin was deemed unsafe
Barnett was charged with sexual assault, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanour. Zech was charged with sexually exploiting a minor, a felony.
A search warrant was executed on Barnett’s home and evidence recovered including his iPhone, a blanket, panties found on a bedroom floor, bedsheets, a bottle of Bacardi and other bottles of liquids.
‘It was just teenagers doing what they wanted to do…There weren’t any consequences,’
Matthew Barnett’s grandfather, former State Representative Rex Barnett
The course seemed set. Interviewed at the time, Sheriff Darren White positively crowed: ‘Within four hours, we had obtained a search warrant for the house and executed that.
‘We had all of the suspects in custody and had audio/video confessions.
‘I would defy Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department to do what we did and get it wrapped up as nicely as we did in that amount of time.’
Class war: Daisy and her siblings were bullied and vilified at their school, Maryville High School, after she reported the rape only for charges to be dropped
But the case was far from ‘wrapped up nicely.’ Two months later Prosecutor Robert Price dropped all charges citing lack of evidence.
Shortly before Mr Price made his announcement, according to Dugan Arnett, Mrs Coleman received a telephone call from a friend with political connections telling her that ‘favors were being called in’ to ensure that charges were dropped.
Barnett’s grandfather, Rex, served for 32 years with Missouri’s Highway Patrol Troop before entering public office. He served four terms as Republican State Representative before stepping down in 2002.
American dream to Maryville nightmare: Daisy had just started to settle into life as a freshman at Maryville High when the alleged attacks took place. She was flattered by Matthew Barnett’s attention having caught his eye as a pretty cheerleader
He has denied using his influence to have the charges against the boys in this case dropped though in an interview he dismissed the events of the night as a case of ‘incorrigible teenagers’ just ‘doing what they wanted to do.’
He added: ‘There weren’t any consequences.’
It is a statement that simply is not true for Daisy and her family.
For them the consequences have been devastating and chillingly reminiscent of the notorious Steubenville, Ohio rape scandal.
Then, two star high school footballers raped a 16-year-old girl when she was too drunk to say no, filmed it and posted images online.
Rapists Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were ultimately brought to justice in March but not before a campaign of online vitriol targeted at the victim and her family and bullying that escalated to death threats.
Perhaps most shocking of all was the extent to which many of the Ohio town sided with the athletes over their victim with some accused of covering up the boys’ crime.
Blame game: Melinda Coleman, Daisy’s mother, said that her daughter started to blame herself for what had happened as the bullying in Maryville took its toll
Today a grand jury continues to investigate the case and has indicted one Steubenville School employee on several counts including perjury, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence.
In Maryville too, many have sided with Barnett and Zech. A brother of one of the boys present that night tweeted his hope that Daisy ‘gets whats comin.’
Elsewhere Barnett’s friend Eric Bostwick posted a tweet praising the footballers sexual prowess.
Mrs Coleman told the Kansas City Star that on one occasion at a dance competition a school peer turned up with a T-shirt reading: ‘Matt – 1, Daisy- 0.’
Her older brother, Charlie, a peer of Barnett, was booed when he took part in school wrestling and mother, Melinda, was sacked from her job at the local vets. Her employer subsequently admitted it had been due to the case and their relationship with the Barnett family which made Mrs Coleman’s employment ‘difficult.’
Speaking to MailOnline Sheriff White who had expressed such optimism in the early stages of the investigation admitted: ‘I think it’s unfortunate but we really did our part of it.
‘It would be very easy for me to be angry and upset but I don’t have control over judges and I don’t have control over prosecutors. I learned a long time ago it’s not in my best interest to dwell.’
He added: ‘If if were re-opened at some point and the prosecutor needed assistance in any way we would be happy to do so.’
He dismissed any notion of political influence being brought to bear in the charges being dropped. He said: ‘It’s absolutely not true and I would substantiate that by saying that Matthew Barnette has been prosecuted several times in this county and served time in the county jail here several times.
‘If someone was going to use influence I think they’d have done so then don’t you?’
None of the previous charges were sexual in nature.
But however sanguine the Sheriff, the online backlash has begun in earnest. A protest is due to take place in Maryville on Tuesday, organised by Anonymous and demanding justice for Daisy. And Nodaway County Sheriff Office’s website was shut down after they were informed by the group of their intention to hack them.
A Facebook page has been set up dedicated to that theme and to date has garnered more than 8,000 likes. On it Daisy sets out in her own words her description of what happened and her hopes for justice.
An online petition at change.org calling on Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to ‘Investigate Darrin White, Robert Price and Evidence Used,’ has had more than 1000 signatures.
And #OpMaryville has called for a Twitter Storm in a bid to see the case re-opened.
Speaking to MailOnline Mrs Coleman said of Daisy: ‘She’s had a really hard tie. She went through a period, a really dark time. She did the self-mutilation and the anger.
‘So much of being told it was her fault…it really does seem like it’s your fault when people keep saying it over and over again.’
Having moved back to Albany and switched schools Daisy,16, is, her mother said, recovering and beginning to move past the trauma with the help of therapy.
For her own part Mrs Coleman said she hoped the case was re-opened and she would like to see justice.
She said: ‘My concern her is what is it going to take for them to do something here? Does one of the girls have to die? Are they going to end up freezing in the front yard before they do something?’
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