Who is Madison Smith? Kansas woman, 22, calls her OWN grand jury using an 1887 law to fight dorm rape case

When prosecutors declined to bring rape charges, Madison Smith called a citizen grand jury, relying on a 134-year-old Kansas state law


                            Who is Madison Smith? Kansas woman, 22, calls her OWN grand jury using an 1887 law to fight dorm rape case
Madison Smith from Kansas has called her (YouTube/ Associated Press)

A Kansas woman who alleged consensual sex with a friend in his college dorm room ended in a terrifying assault took matters into her own hands when prosecutors declined to bring rape charges. She called a citizen grand jury, relying on 134-year-old state law.

It's potentially the first time such a right has been invoked after sex crime charges were refused, and it could be a potential solution in situations where victims of sex crimes often feel unheard by the criminal justice system. According to the Associated Press, Madison Smith, 22, gathered hundreds of signatures required to form a grand jury by telling strangers about her story in a parking lot. Her first appeal was rejected due to a technicality, so she had to go through the process again. 

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Who is Madison Smith?

Madison Smith graduated from Bethany College in Lindsborg, about 70 miles north of Wichita earlier this month, according to ABC News. She is now part of a generation of women encouraged to share their experiences after the #MeToo campaign provided them such a platform. “This happens nationwide, worldwide that victims and survivors are minimized by the prosecutors who don’t believe them,” she said, “And that is not OK because rape culture is so prevalent, and we need to get rid of it, and one of the ways to do that is to get our stories out there.”

Kansas is one of six states that allows people to apply for grand juries under an 1887 statute. The law was rarely used until anti-abortion groups began using it to appoint grand juries to investigate abortion clinics, according to the outlet. It has since been used to target adult bookstores and to challenge former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's right to run for governor as a Republican.

However, according to Kathy Ray of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Smith's lawsuit, which will be heard in September, is believed to be the first time anyone alleging sexual harassment has used it. “This case has a lot of issues within the criminal justice system, and sometimes victims feel they have no other choice but to go public,” Smith said.

How did Madison Smith use the state law?

Obtaining a grand jury was no easy task. Smith had to stand in a parking lot for hours on end telling strangers her story in order to gather hundreds of signatures, only to have the petition rejected on a technicality. “It took me a while to find my voice, but I have found it, and I am going to use it," she said according to the Washington Post.

A few minutes after she started speaking, some of the strangers she met took the pen from her hands, hugged her and whispered into her ear so that those nearby wouldn't hear that they had been sexually abused in the past. “They were very thankful that I was fighting, just fighting the justice system and trying to make a change in the world because they were too scared to fight back,” she recalled.



 

 

What happened to Madison Smith?

Smith claims that while a student at Bethany College in Lindsborg in 2018, she met Jared Stolzenburg while doing laundry and the two went to his dorm to have sex. Smith said that after it began consensually, Stolzenburg began strangling and slapping her, obstructing her ability to breathe.

“I really thought that he was going to kill me, and the only way I was going to leave that room was in a body bag,” Smith said. “He would strangle me for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, and I would begin to lose consciousness.” Stolzenburg pled guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to two years probation, but Smith believes it is insufficient punishment.

“This happens nationwide, worldwide that victims and survivors are minimized by the prosecutors who don’t believe them,” Smith said. “And that is not OK because rape culture is so prevalent, and we need to get rid of it, and one of the ways to do that is to get our stories out there.”

County Attorney Gregory Benefiel later did press charges and won a conviction on aggravated battery, the Post reported, but there was already tension between Benfiel and Smith over why rape charges weren't pursued. “He told me that the rape I experienced wasn’t rape, it was immature sex because I didn’t verbally say no when I was being strangled,” Smith said in one court hearing. “He then told me he was not filing charges.”

Now, she will not only get to appear in front of the jury in the beginning to state her intentions, but she will also get to ask for the county attorney to go and have a special prosecutor assigned instead. “There is no doubt in my mind that Madison believes that she was a victim of rape,” Benefiel said in defending himself to the Post. “It was approached in that way, and then charging decisions were made based on the evidence that was available in the case. I don’t believe that we minimized this.”

Defense lawyers also attempted to prove that the victim consented not only to rape but to rough sex, according to Justin Boardman, who advises officers and prosecutors to prosecute sex crimes. However, before sex begins, there are usually a lot of check-ins and conversations in that lifestyle, he added. “If it is just a surprise, it is assault,” he said to ABC News.