Coleman secret recording leaves questions unanswered in alleged sexual assault case

MARYVILLE, Mo. - A series of secret recordings sent to 41 Action News on Thursday by the mother of alleged sexual assault victim Daisy Coleman appears to cast doubt on the prosecutor's timeline for when the most serious charges in the case were dropped and why.

Melinda Coleman said the audio clips she provided to news outlets come from a late-May 2012 conversation with Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice.

The veracity of the recordings could not immediately be independently confirmed as calls to the prosecutor's office went unanswered. Rice did not dispute the tapes' existence when they were mentioned in a news conference Wednesday.

Central to the dispute over when and why the most serious charges in the case were dropped is the question of when the Colemans decided to stop cooperating with prosecutors. The Colemans said it wasn't until May when they asserted their fifth-amendment rights not to testify. But on Wednesday, Prosecutor Robert Rice said the decision to drop the most serious charges in the case, which was done in March, came when the Colemans decided not to cooperate.

For his part, Rice would not give a specific date – citing the fact that records in the case are sealed, but was adamant in his news conference that when the records become public they will support his account.

"We were very careful, very deliberate to make sure that we recorded that there was no misunderstanding … at that time when they invoked their Fifth Amendment right," Rice said.

But in Melinda Coleman's recordings, the voice she said is Rice's claims he's only then learning about the decision not to cooperate.

"You haven't missed a deposition at all," Rice says. "The only deposition is this one, and that was where it was explained to me that you were claiming the fifth, so at least I knew about it."

The Colemans believe the most serious charges in the case were dismissed in March not for lack of evidence or their cooperation, but as a political favor to the accused teen's connected family – a charge the teen's family, the sheriff and the prosecutor have all strongly denied. 

In the recordings, Coleman and Rice can also be heard discussing strategy for pursuing the final remaining misdemeanor charge against the 17-year-old who had been accused of sexually assaulting Coleman's then 14-year-old daughter.

In one, Rice appears to weigh the pros and cons of calling one witness whom he describes as a "wild card."

In another, he tells Coleman that he pursued her case as aggressively as he might any other and appears to allude to newly-discovered information that could be damaging to his case.

"We find out more information – it's like we can't. It's just not there. I can't put..." Rice says, before the recording abruptly and tantalizingly ends.

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