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The criminal case against the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest is poised to reach a surprisingly swift end. Jackson County, Mo., prosecutorsMore >>
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Saturday, October 15 2011 12:09 AM EDT2011-10-15 04:09:51 GMT
The Kansas City area Catholic Diocese and Bishop Robert Finn face misdemeanor charges for the handling of a priest accused of possessing child pornography. This is the first time a bishop in the United States has faced charges for allegedly protecting an abusive priest. Finn and the diocese deny the allegations. More >>
MARYVILLE, MO (KCTV) -
Matthew Barnett has apologized to Daisy Coleman and her family, and entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge as part of a rape investigation that made national headlines.
He must pay $1,800 in restitution to Coleman's family, which will be used to provide mental health counseling for the girl.
Barnett, who was 17 years old at the time of the alleged attack, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in a short hearing Thursday afternoon before Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich.
Barnett, now 19, was then sentenced to two years probation. If he fails to meet the conditions of his probation, then he faces 120 days in jail.
The conditions of his probation include not consuming alcohol, being near alcohol or going to an establishment that sells alcohol; avoiding all contact with Coleman and her family; performing 100 hours of community service; paying the $1,800; drug testing; a substance abuse evaluation; and the apology.
Barnett could have faced up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine on the charge of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child. He had a prior alcohol conviction.
Barnett was arrested by the Missouri Highway Patrol Thursday morning as part of the plea deal.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in this case, says a misdemeanor conviction was the most likely outcome in this case. She said she did not file sexual assault charges based on her review of the evidence and she also considered the turmoil the case has created for the Maryville area.
"Today is a good day. It is an opportunity for this town to heal," Baker said. "But what this day is really about is a very, very young victim."
Baker said she considered a felony charge, but chose not to pursue it.
"In this case, there was insufficient evidence to go forward on sexual assault (charge)," Baker said. "Our analysis was after a long trial and after very possibly further dividing a community, we were going to end up with a misdemeanor conviction of what we have right now."
The girl and her mother were informed of the plea deal and accepted it, officials said.
Coleman was 14 years old when she initially said that Barnett raped in her 2012. He has maintained that the sex was consensual, and in December Coleman admitted to investigators that Barnett could have thought the encounter was consensual, according to court documents.
Barnett was a high school football player and is the grandson of a prominent Republican.
An attorney issued a statement on behalf of Daisy Coleman and her mother, Melinda Coleman, who chose not to attend Thursday's hearing.
"I want to thank everyone who has supported me and my family during these past two years. Your support has meant so much to me," Daisy Coleman said in the statement. "Today, I am grateful that the defendant took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges. I am ready to move forward. To all those who supported me, I promise that what happened on Jan. 8, 2012, will not define me forever."
Melinda Coleman said she hopes Thursday's guilty plea brings closure to her family and the community.
"All of us need to come together in a more positive way," she said. "These last two years have been extremely painful. But today I hope somehow, some way that something good will come from this."
John P. O'Connor, the attorney for the Colemans, thanked Baker for her "hard work and determination in this case."
J.R. Hobbs, the attorney for Barnett, said his client accepts full responsibility for abandoning Daisy Coleman in frigid conditions. But Hobbs emphasized that there is no evidence to support felony charges, and "absolutely no evidence" that no political favoritism occurred.
"Mr. Barnett truly regrets the actions of which he has pled guilty. He'll now focus on fulfilling his plea agreement," Hobbs said.
Details of the verbal apology that Barnett made weren't released.
The case drew national attention after The Kansas City Star published the results of a seven-month investigation into the allegations.
Early in the morning hours of Jan. 8, 2012, Daisy Coleman snuck out of her house with another friend and went to Barnett's home. During the early morning hours of Jan. 8, 2012, Barnett, then a senior, had sex with Daisy Coleman, while another boy had sex with the 13-year-old friend. A third student recorded part of the incident on video.
Court documents indicate that the boys left Daisy Coleman outside her home in temperatures in the low 20s and upper teens while she was barefoot and wearing yoga pants and a shirt. Daisy Coleman's brother said her face was blue and her hair frozen when she pounded on the door for help. Family members said she was clearly disoriented.
Daisy Coleman admitted she and the friend left her house to meet the boys but said they encouraged her to drink vodka heavily, and she doesn't remember much of what happened next. The boys said the sex was consensual.
The encounter was recorded on an iPhone, but it was deleted and authorities have been unable to recover the file.
Several hours after the event, Daisy Coleman's blood-alcohol level was .134, according to a hospital records.
As Baker took over the investigation, witnesses were re-interviewed. During a Dec. 20 interview, Daisy Coleman told an MHP sergeant that both she and Barnett were drinking. The sergeant asked whether Barnett could have thought their encounter was consensual.
"He was drinking too, so yeah, he could have," Daisy Coleman said in court documents.
The MHP sergeant wrote that Barnett and his male friend dumped Daisy Coleman beside her house, knowing she was highly intoxicated, incoherent and incapable of walking. She was outside for hours before she was discovered.
This "created a substantial risk to the life of (Daisy Coleman) by leaving her outside exposed to the elements in a highly intoxicated condition," according to court records.
In 2012, Barnett and his 17-year-old friend were charged as adults with felonies and misdemeanors, but Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice dropped the charges several months later, citing a lack of evidence and the Colemans' refusal to cooperate. The Colemans say that was not the case.
The original misdemeanor count against Barnett was dropped. A 15-year-old was charged in juvenile court.
An outcry arose accusing Rice, a Republican, of giving preferential treatment. Under pressure, he sought the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Melinda Coleman moved her family to Albany, MO, about 40 miles from Maryville because she said many residents of Maryville turned on her family. She and her daughter have been talking publicly about the case in hopes that the attention would lead to justice being served.
When Melinda and Daisy Coleman said in a CNN interview that they would testify, Rice said it was the right time for a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to re-examine the case. The city and the prosecutor all said that they hope an independent review of the facts will allow high emotions by people throughout the country to subside as well as healing for all people involved.
Daisy Coleman remains at a hospital after a Sunday suicide attempt. Her mother told a British tabloid that it happened after her daughter went to a party on Friday and came home to abuse on her Facebook page from two girls who she had previously called friends.
Melinda Coleman asked for help on her Facebook page from the hacker group Anonymous. They had previously vowed to find Daisy Coleman's attackers and hold them accountable after most of the charges were dropped. Anonymous maintains they support the Colemans in every way possible.
KCTV5 does not generally name victims of sexual assault, but is naming Daisy Coleman because she and her mother have been granting public interviews about the case.
Barnett's 17-year-old friend will not face charges in part because the iPhone video no longer exists.
Baker has a previous history of filing a misdemeanor charge in a high-profile case where a conviction on felony charges could prove problematic. She filed a misdemeanor charge against Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for failing to properly report to state authorities a priest who committed numerous child pornography felonies involving children in his parishes.
KCTV5's Heather Staggers and Stacey Cameron contributed to this report.
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