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 or agreement about this violence, and the encounter 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 nonconsensual strangulation that could have resulted in death. Sentencing will take place on August 21, 2020.
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 on July 25, and believe they have enough signatures to re-file in pursuit of a grand jury case review, but would like to collect more.
What happened to Madison on February 11, 2018 was traumatic and life-changing. The justice system failed her and actively prevented her from having her day in court.
Madison deserves justice and she deserves support.