On February 11, 2018 Madison Smith reported that she had been raped. What began as consensual first-time sex between Madison and the suspect escalated to violence when he repeatedly slapped her across the face and strangled her with both hands several times. Madison tried to remove his hands from around her neck but was unable to: when she struggled, he squeezed harder, until she started losing consciousness. They had not had any prior communication about this unlawful and potentially fatal type of violence. The assault left visible marks on her body.
County Attorney Greg Benefiel, the prosecutor on the case, asked to meet privately with Madison, telling her his office couldn’t move forward with charges of rape or sexual assault. The county attorney called what happened to Madison “immature sex.” Stunned, Madison requested her parents’ presence. 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 Madison did not verbally revoke consent while being strangled.
Madison was left to seek justice on her own. She hired a legal and consulting team, and organized a petition drive, seeking to gather enough signatures to file a motion convening a grand jury investigation of her case, a very seldom-used Kansas statute. Madison was required to secure 335 signatures from registered voters in McPherson County, Kansas in order to file.
Kicking off with a petition drive on May 31, 2020, in just three days 426 voters signed on demanding justice for Madison. On June 1, 2020, the county attorney and the suspect’s defense attorney moved the suspect’s plea hearing from July 2 up to June 4 in an attempt to prevent Madison’s petition from being filed in time. Madison filed the petition, along with a motion to postpone, on June 2.
The arraignment hearing moved forward on June 4, where Madison’s continuance was denied, with the county attorney stating, “I don’t personally see a reason to continue. I don’t think it will achieve anything.” Madison’s attacker pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated battery, which the county attorney himself described as non-consensual strangulation that could have resulted in death.
Madison’s attacker was sentenced to 24 months probation for one count of aggravated battery on August 21, 2020. He did not have to answer to any sexual assault charges.
Due to a technicality in the statute, Madison’s original petition was ultimately rejected: a registered McPherson County voter must witness every signature and sign each petition page as a witness. Madison and her support team held a second petition drive and refiled her petition a few days after the sentencing. On September 28, the Ninth District Court of McPherson County notified Madison that her request for a grand jury investigation had been granted. When Kansas trials resume sometime after January 2021, a grand jury will be summoned to consider filing new, appropriate charges of rape.
What happened to Madison on February 11, 2018 was traumatic and life-changing. The justice system failed her, re-traumatized her, and actively tried to prevent her from having her day in court, but she refused to give up. She will continue to fight for justice and looks forward to the opportunity for a grand jury to hear her case.
Madison deserves justice and she deserves support.