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New prosecutor to investigate Missouri rape case championed by hacking group

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A new prosecutor in Missouri will take over the investigation of an alleged sexual assault in the town of Maryville, a case that attracted national attention after it was publicized by the computer hacking group Anonymous.

Jean Peters Baker, who is from the Kansas City area and has no ties to the rural town embroiled in the case, was appointed by a judge on Monday. A former high school football player is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl at a party in early 2012, and a second teen is accused of recording the incident on a cellphone.

Nodaway County Prosecutor Bob Rice had filed felony charges against the two boys, who were both 17 at the time, but later dropped them, citing a lack of cooperation from the girl, her mother and other witnesses.

The girl, Daisy Coleman, and her mother Melinda Coleman, have denied being uncooperative with prosecutors and in several interviews have pressed for the case to be reopened.

Reuters generally does not publish the names of sexual assault victims but both Daisy and Melinda Coleman have spoken publicly about the case.

The case shows the power of the Internet, with the computer hacker group Anonymous having taken up the cause to put pressure on authorities to bring charges after it mounted a similar campaign in another rape case that focused attention on the town of Steubenville, Ohio.

The teen accused of assaulting Daisy Coleman is from a prominent Maryville family and Melinda Coleman told the Kansas City Star newspaper that many people in the city turned against her daughter and family after they pursued the case.

Rice asked for a special prosecutor to conduct an independent review after four witnesses said in a television interview they were willing to testify in the case.

"I know this case has raised a variety of concerns in northwest Missouri," the new special prosecutor Baker told reporters on Monday. "Our review of this case will be without fear and without favor. I can assure you that politics, connections, or any other reason you can think of will not play a role in our review of this case."

A months-long investigation of the case published on October 13 in the Kansas City Star focused attention on Maryville, and Anonymous highlighted the case after the newspaper expose. Anonymous plans a rally Tuesday in Maryville to support Coleman.

Melinda Coleman told the newspaper she and her family moved from Maryville, about 90 miles north of Kansas City, after they endured harassment.

Records were sealed when the cases were dropped, but the Kansas City Star said prosecutors initially filed sexual assault charges against a grandson of a former four-term Republican state representative, and sexual exploitation charges against the second teen for allegedly recording the incident.

Daisy Coleman told prosecutors she had been drinking earlier in the night and remembered being given alcohol at the party and nothing after that. The teen accused of assaulting her admitted having sex with her, but said it was consensual, according to the Kansas City Star.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Greg McCune, Andre Grenon and Lisa Shumaker)

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