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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Now to a story that may sound familiar - this one set in the small, central Missouri town of Maryville. It involves some high school football players accused of the rape of two young girls. The charges against the boys were eventually dropped, but the story doesn't end there. This week, the county prosecutor requested an independent attorney revisit the case.

From member station KCUR, Peggy Lowe reports the same Internet activist group that crusaded in another high-profile rape case is taking credit for this turnaround, too.

PEGGY LOWE, BYLINE: The first thing Daisy Coleman remembers is her surprise that she was still alive.

DAISY COLEMAN: I was just like - I thought I was dead at first.

LOWE: Back on Jan. 8th, 2012, 5 a.m., Daisy Coleman was found propped up on the porch of her family's home in Maryville, Mo., a town of 12,000 set in farm country. The 14-year-old had been outside about three hours, unconscious in freezing temperatures, in just a T-shirt and sweatpants. She doesn't remember dragging herself to the front door.

COLEMAN: What I do remember is me and my friend were drinking in my bedroom, without my mom's permission. And then this guy texted me and he's like, hey, you want to hang out? And I was like, well, I'll have to sneak around. It's like, 1 in the morning.

LOWE: The guy who texted Coleman was Matthew Barnett, then a 17-year-old high school athlete. Barnett picked up Daisy and her 13-year-old friend and along with some other boys, snuck into Barnett's parents' home, where they drank and partied. According to sheriff's reports, Barnett admitted to having sex with Coleman, but said it was consensual. His buddy, then 17-year-old Jordan Zech, videotaped part of it on an iPhone. An underage boy said he had sex with the 13-year-old despite her saying no.

SHERIFF DARREN WHITE: 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.

LOWE: That's Sheriff Darren White. Barnett and Zech were charged as adults under Missouri law, and the underage boy was prosecuted as a juvenile. But then a toxic mix of small-town gossip and social media kicked in. Coleman says she was cyberbullied by the boys' friends. Her mom, Melinda Coleman, accused law enforcement of protecting the boys. Authorities accused her of being uncooperative. Then came the next blow to the family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: Charges are dropped against two Maryville teens accused in a sexual assault case...

LOWE: The announcement that county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the case came just three months after the charges were filed. Rice, an up-and-coming Republican, was accused of dropping the charges because of the Barnett family's deep political ties, a claim Rice denies. The sheriff blamed the alleged victim and her family for destroying the case.

WHITE: When we have victims that are harpooning the case, at least the suspects were smart enough to keep their mouths shut after it all happened.

LOWE: The boys graduated from high school and went to college in nearby towns. But the Colemans didn't give up. Daisy and her mom, Melinda, talked to local NPR member station KCUR and other reporters. The stories gained traction online and the self-proclaimed Internet hacktivist Anonymous then took up the cause via YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANONYMOUS YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If Maryville won't defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then someone else will have to stand for them.

LOWE: Anonymous is a mostly online collective of international activists. The group is credited with leaking the video of the rape victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, case last year, which led to the conviction of two young men. This week, Anonymous called for a Twitterstorm, and a protest was planned for Maryville next week. Law enforcement reacted.

ROBERT RICE: I have asked the court to appoint a special prosecuting attorney to conduct an independent review of the facts and determine whether to re-file charges.

LOWE: That's prosecutor Robert Rice, who spoke at a press conference yesterday. Barnett's mother, visibly angry, told reporters that her son is being threatened and needs an escort to his college classes. Meanwhile, the Colemans are thrilled that the case is being re-examined.

For NPR News, I'm Peggy Lowe.

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