NEW: Mother of victim says she thinks prosecutor did what she could, but evidence was contaminated
Matthew Barnett pleaded guilty to leaving Daisy Coleman drunk outside her house to fend for self
He had been charged last year with sexual assault, but those charges were dropped
Victim says she is happy that Barnett took responsibility
A Missouri man pleaded guilty Thursday to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with a highly publicized sex assault case involving a teenage girl, a prosecutor said.
Matthew Barnett, 19, was sentenced to two years’ probation.
Prosecutors said Barnett, then 17, gave alcohol to his victim, Daisy Coleman, until she was impaired, and left her outside her home in temperatures below freezing during the early morning hours of January 8, 2012.
Barnett had been arrested and charged with sexual assault, but two months after the incident the charges were dropped when the original prosecutor said the Coleman family wasn’t cooperating with the investigation. The girl’s mother denied that contention in an interview with CNN.
Jean Peters Baker was appointed special prosecutor in October and reopened the case.
Coleman, who was 14 when she claimed she was raped, released a statement through Baker’s office.
“Today, I am grateful that the defendant took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges. I am ready to move forward,” Coleman, 16, said.
Her mother said Baker did the best she could under tough circumstances, alluding to her belief that evidence had been altered, destroyed or lost.
Barnett’s attorney, Jay R. Hobbs, said the misdemeanor charge “accurately reflects the conduct of which he should be held accountable for.”
Baker said there wasn’t enough evidence to file a felony sex assault or endangerment charge.
“This is the outcome that we believe was the right and just outcome in this case,” she told reporters.
Coleman was in a hospital after a weekend suicide attempt, her mother told CNN on Tuesday. Melinda Coleman said her daughter had been harassed by several people through social media.
Melinda Coleman was not in court Thursday, telling CNN that she wanted to stay with her daughter.
CNN does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual assault but has done so in this case because Daisy and her mother had chosen to go public.
The most important term of Thursday’s plea deal, Baker said, was the condition that Barnett apologize to Coleman. The prosecutor said she believed the verbal apology was genuine and heartfelt. She will relay the statement to Daisy at a later date, she said.
Barnett also will have to pay the Colemans $1,800, take drug tests and do community service. He is not allowed to be around alcohol.
If he violates his probation, he will go to jail for 120 days.
The case gained national attention last year when on the one-year anniversary of the incident the Kansas City Star featured the story.
According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol probable cause statement filed by prosecutors, Daisy Coleman and a friend were drinking at the Coleman home in Maryville, which is in northwest Missouri, about 100 miles north of Kansas City.
Coleman and Barnett were texting each other and after midnight, Coleman and her friend sneaked out to meet Barnett, who drove them to his neighborhood.
The patrol statement didn’t identify Coleman’s friend, but Paige Parkhurst, 13 at the time, later came forward to the media.
After they sneaked into Barnett’s parents home, they drank in the basement, along with several other people. Coleman told investigators she started drinking vodka, then doesn’t remember anything else until she woke up in her yard around 5 a.m. She was barefoot, dressed only in a T-shirt and yoga pants.
Barnett said that, after about an hour of drinking, he drove Coleman, Parkhurst and a boy to another friend’s house, where Barnett asked the friend to drive them to Coleman’s house to drop her off, according to the statement.
Barnett and a juvenile carried Coleman to one side of her home then came back to the car, the document says. Weather records indicated temperatures were in the low 20s that morning.
The probable cause statement was filed by prosecutors as part of the plea deal. It focuses on the alleged endangerment and makes no mention of a sexual assault allegation.
In a statement issued in October, a lawyer for the Barnett family noted that a felony charge of sexual assault was filed January 9, 2012, against Matthew Barnett, alleging sexual intercourse with someone who was incapacitated.
“Mr. Barnett cooperated with the investigation and freely admitted to the sexual encounter,” said the statement from lawyer Robert Sundell. “While many find Matt Barnett’s behavior reprehensible, the legal issue was whether a crime was committed.
“Subsequent investigation and interviews raised substantial doubt about the felony charge, specifically including whether the young lady was incapacitated during the encounter.”
Melinda Coleman has said she thought the charges against Barnett had been dropped because of his family’s political connections – one of his grandfathers was a popular four-term state representative.
Parkhurst said she was raped by a different boy that same night. That case was settled in juvenile court.
Melinda Coleman said in 2013 that her children had received threats and she was fired from her job as a veterinarian at a clinic. The Colemans have since moved to another town.
The case gained traction after the newspaper article and the Colemans’ appearances on CNN. The online activist collective Anonymous picked up the cause, releasing a statement that questioned how the case was being handled.
CNN’s Michelle Richmond contributed to this report.