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Missouri teen pleads guilty to misdemeanor in assault case

By Kevin Murphy

MARYVILLE, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri man accused by a teen girl of sexually assaulting her at a 2012 party when he was 17 pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor charge Of endangering a child, but will face no other charges in a case publicized by the hacker group Anonymous.

Matthew Barnett, now 19, received probation and agreed to pay restitution to the girl after pleading guilty at the Nodaway County Courthouse in Maryville, Missouri, Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told a news conference.

Baker said there was insufficient evidence to pursue sexual assault charges in the case, that the girl and her family supported the plea agreement and that Barnett would face no other charges.

The complaint brought by Baker accused Barnett of providing the girl, then 14, with alcohol until she was intoxicated and leaving her outside her home barefoot, wearing only a shirt and yoga pants in below-freezing temperatures when she was incapable of taking care of herself.

Barnett was given a four-month sentence, which will be suspended if he completes two-years' probation, which includes 100 hours of community service, $1,800 restitution to the girl's family and a verbal apology delivered through prosecutors.

Nodaway County Prosecutor Bob Rice previously filed felony charges accusing Barnett of sexual assault and another 17-year-old boy of recording the alleged incident on a cellphone. Rice later dropped the charges, citing a lack of cooperation from the girl, her mother and other witnesses.

Daisy Coleman and her mother, Melinda Coleman, both denied being uncooperative with prosecutors and pressed in several media interviews for the case to be reopened. Reuters generally does not publish the names of sexual assault victims but Daisy and Melinda Coleman both have spoken publicly about the case.

Rice asked for a special prosecutor to conduct an independent review to determine if charges should be re-filed. Baker said the girl and her mother were very cooperative in her investigation.

The Colemans were not in court on Thursday.

"I hope that today's resolution of this criminal case brings some closure for my family, especially my children, and for the community," Melinda Coleman said in a statement.

Daisy Coleman said in a statement that she was ready to move forward. "To all those who supported me, I promise that what happened on January 8, 2012, will not define me forever."

A lengthy October 13 article in the Kansas City Star focused attention on the Maryville case, which had been compared with the 2012 rape of a teenage girl by high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio.

After the Kansas City Star story, members of the loosely formed Anonymous activist group helped organize a rally in Maryville to pressure authorities to bring charges.

Baker, a prosecutor in Jackson County, which is about 90 miles south of Maryville, was named in October to look again at the case to determine if charges should be pursued.

"Matthew Barnett accepts full responsibility for the conduct charged in the information," his attorney, J.R. Hobbs told a news conference. "Mr. Barnett truly regrets the actions to which he has pled guilty."

According to court papers that identified Coleman by her initials D.C., she had been texting with Barnett and drinking at home with a female friend before the party in the basement of Barnett's parents' house.

She told investigators she was given a cup of vodka and taunted into drinking it. After drinking from the cup, she did not remember anything until waking up hours later in her yard, she said. Her blood alcohol content was more than 0.13 when measured at the hospital that morning.

(This story has been corrected to fix spelling of lawyer's name to J.R., not J.J., in paragraph 15)

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and David Bailey in Minneapolis; editing by Scott Malone, Stephen Powell, Andrew Hay and Gunna Dickson)

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