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Online group Anonymous takes aim at Missouri town over sex assault case

The online activist group Anonymous said on Tuesday it would launch a "Twitter storm" and stage a rally in a Missouri town to protest the dropping of sex charges against two ex-high school football players in an incident involving a 14-year-old girl. (MB Image)
The online activist group Anonymous said on Tuesday it would launch a "Twitter storm" and stage a rally in a Missouri town to protest the dropping of sex charges against two ex-high school football players in an incident involving a 14-year-old girl. (MB Image)

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - The online activist group Anonymous said on Tuesday it would launch a "Twitter storm" and stage a rally in a Missouri town to protest the dropping of sex charges against two ex-high school football players in an incident involving a 14-year-old girl.

Prosecutors in Nodaway County charged the male teenagers in connection with the incident at a party in January 2012 in Maryville, Mo. They said they dropped the case because of lack of evidence.

Anonymous, a loosely associated international group of activists and hackers, said it was planning an October 22 rally outside a courthouse in Maryville to support the girl, Daisy Coleman. It also plans to use Twitter to draw attention to the case.

Coleman and her mother, Melinda Coleman, have spoken about the case publicly in interviews with the Kansas City Star and other media. Melinda Coleman could not be reached immediately for comment on Tuesday.

"We demand an immediate investigation into the handling by local authorities of Daisy's case," Anonymous said in a statement posted online. "We have seen Daisy's story all too often."

Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder on Tuesday asked that the case be reopened, urging state Attorney General Chris Koster and Nodaway County Prosecutor Bob Rice to join him in asking the circuit court to convene a grand jury in the case.

"The appalling facts in the public record shock the conscience and cry out that responsible authorities must take another look," said Kinder, a Republican. Koster, like Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, is a Democrat.

The renewed focus on the case, which has drawn comparisons to the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, followed the Star's publication on Sunday of a months-long investigation.

The newspaper reported that one of the teenagers is from a prominent local family and admitted having sex with Coleman after providing her with alcohol, but said it was consensual. He was originally charged with felony sex assault.

The other teenager was accused of videotaping part of the encounter with an iPhone and was charged with felony sexual exploitation of a minor, the Star said. Both were 17 at the time of the incident and had been Maryville High School football players, it said.

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

Rice said on Tuesday that the article did not include all the facts about the criminal case.

"There was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt," Rice said in a statement. "The state's witnesses refused to cooperate and invoked their 5th Amendment privilege to not testify."

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Koster, said the state attorney general would not get involved in the case.

"Charging decisions in criminal cases are placed within the discretion of elected county prosecutors in Missouri," Gonder said. "State law provides the Attorney General's Office with no authority to review or overrule a prosecutor's charging decisions."

In the Ohio case, Anonymous accused authorities of shielding the popular Steubenville High School football program after two players were accused of raping a teenage girl at a party. The players were later convicted and a grand jury recently indicted a school employee on charges of obstructing the investigation.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Paul Simao)

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