FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 3, 2021
Contact: Justin Boardman
801-231-0881 (text or call)
BREAKING: GRAND JURY DECLINES TO FILE NEW CHARGES IN GROUNDBREAKING KANSAS RAPE CASE
Madison Smith’s Case Made International News When She Won a Grand Jury Investigation After a Prosecutor Called Her Rape “Immature Sex” and Refused to File Sexual Assault Charges
McPherson County, KS –Madison Smith, a rape survivor whose case made international news after being featured in the Washington Post last May, convened her own grand jury after a county prosecutor refused to file sexual assault charges against her rapist. Yesterday, attorneys informed Ms. Smith that the grand jury had concluded and declined to file charges.
Smith told the Washington Post on Tuesday that while she felt numb and angry at the outcome, she had no regrets about pursuing the case. “I definitely feel we brought a lot of awareness to the fact that a lot of sexual assaults get pushed under the rug and ignored,” she said. “From the very beginning, I have said I want my day in court, and I got it. Even though it didn’t go the way I hoped, I know I tried as much as I could.”
Ms. Smith reported that she had been raped on February 11, 2018. What began as consensual first-time sex between Ms. Smith and college classmate Jared Stolzenburg escalated to violence when he began to strangle her. Ms. Smith tried to remove his hands from around her neck but was unable to: when she struggled, he squeezed harder, until she started to lose consciousness. They had not had any prior communication about this potentially fatal type of violence; Ms. Smith had not consented to it.
County Attorney Greg Benefiel, who initially prosecuted the case, called what happened to Ms. Smith “immature sex.” Eventually, the county attorney filed a charge of aggravated battery for the strangulation, but refused to file the appropriate charge of rape and other sexual assault charges because Ms. Smith did not verbally revoke consent while being strangled. Stolzenburg pleaded guilty to a single count of battery and was sentenced to only 24 months of probation.
Ms. Smith and her team petitioned the court for a grand jury investigation via a rarely-used Kansas statute dating back to the 1800’s. She secured the necessary signatures from registered voters in the county, and the Ninth District Court of McPherson County granted her request.
The grand jury convened in October 2021, with Ms. Smith sitting down before 14 jurors and retired prosecutor David Yoder, who was appointed to replace Benefiel, on October 18. She discussed the events of the night she was attacked, as well as the legal process and how it impacted her. Yoder described her state of mind that night: “He said, ‘You were overcome by force and fear,’ and I said, ‘Yes, that is correct.’”
The jurors reached a decision on November 1. Via attorneys, Ms. Smith and her team were informed that the grand jury declined to file new charges, and no true bill was issued on submitted charges for Rape, Aggravated Criminal Sodomy (anal); Aggravated Criminal Sodomy (oral), and Aggravated Criminal Battery. In light of grand jury secrecy rules, the McPherson County Court will not confirm nor deny any grand jury decision, and will not confirm that a grand jury ever met.
“Madison, her family, and her team worked incredibly hard to seek justice – not just for her, but for all survivors,” said Detective Justin Boardman (Ret.), a consultant on Ms. Smith’s case. “It is our responsibility, as a society, to hold the justice system accountable. When police or prosecutors fail to treat survivors of sexual assault with respect or dignity, the system enables rape culture. When the justice system refuses to understand and uphold consent as the most essential preventative measure against sexual violence, we are not just doing a disservice to survivors, we are actively allowing rape culture to exist.”
Building a culture of consent within the justice system is critical. Unless and until the justice system stops perpetuating rape culture by holding survivors, not offenders, responsible for sexual assault, the system will continue to fail victims of violent crime.
Madison Smith held the system accountable. She fought for her rights, and she made her voice resoundingly heard – in McPherson County, throughout Kansas, across the United States, and around the world. Her case, regardless of this disappointing outcome, impacted the system for the better if even one prosecutor learns from it, if even one survivor feels acknowledged by it, if even one person gains a clearer understanding of consent.
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Justin Boardman at Justin@JustinBoardman.com or 801-231-0881 (text or call)
Boardman Training & Consulting moves the justice system toward more victim-centric, trauma-informed strategies that hold offenders accountable. They train law enforcement in trauma-informed interviewing and investigation protocols, and advocate for survivors of sexual violence.
Finding the Right is a training and consulting firm specializing in sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Former prosecutor Julie Germann helps to develop victim-centered protocols for the investigation and prosecution of sexual and physical violence, and aids in advancing understanding of all aspects of violence and victim response.
Berkowitz Oliver LLP is a Kansas City-based litigation boutique dedicated to excellence in legal work and client services throughout the Midwest and the United States.