Saturday, October 19, 2013

Even small towns can't hide from the Internet

As evinced by the story of Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri, which has been featured in recent days on both NPR and in the New York Times.   The headline in the latter is "High School Sexual Assault Case is Revisited, Haunting Missouri Town."  Daisy Coleman was just 14 when she accused a 17-year-old high school athlete, Matt Barnett, of raping her.  Ms. Coleman and her mother Melinda Coleman claim that charges against Barnett were ultimately dropped because of his political connections, but prosecutor Richard Rice has cited a lack of evidence.  NPR quotes Nodaway County Sheriff, Darren White, from a July interview:
Did a crime occur?  Hell yes, it occurred. Was it a horrible crime? Yes, it was a horrible crime. Did these boys need to be punished for it? Absolutely.
But White agrees with Rice's assertion that the elder Ms. Coleman's lack of cooperation led to the dismissal of the charges, though he blames the victim, too.  White says:
We have victims that are harpooning the case.  At least the suspects were smart enough to keep their mouths shut after it all happened.
The Colemans moved 40 miles away to escape the "toxic mix of small-town gossip and social media," but they continued to try to attract attention to the case.  

Enter Anonymous, the hacktivist group credited with influencing events in Stubenville, Ohio, where two men were convicted last year of raping a young woman who passed out a football party.  Last week the Kansas City Star ran an article suggesting the matter should be revisited, and prosecutor Rice has since requested that a judge appoint a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case.  According to NPR:  
This week, Anonymous called for a "Twitterstorm" to spread word of the case, and other social media users planned a protest for Maryville next week.
Some are calling next week's protest a candlelight vigil for justice.  Meanwhile, local officials and local residents, along with the alleged perpetrator, say they are being harrassed.  According to John Eligon in the New York Times:  
“‘May you never sleep at night again, and may your soul burn eternally in hell’ — that’s commonplace now,” said the mayor, Jim Fall, recalling one of the hundreds of messages that flooded his in-box last week. 
Local officials (even some, like Mr. Fall, who have nothing to do with the case), families and students say they have received threats. Businesses say customers have stayed away to avoid the reporters from around the globe. The Sheriff’s Department has taken down its Web site because of hacking threats.
Eligon quotes assistant superintendent for the Maryville School District, Steve Klotz:
Doesn’t matter how you view the situation happened. We’re all now in a position where we have an uneasy feeling about what does this mean for our town.
Maryville, population 11,972, is the county seat of Nodaway County in the northwest part of the state.  

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