MCPHERSON—For one McPherson County woman, the wheels of justice have not turned straight or quickly, and she is trying to get some help.
Madison Smith, the daughter of a veteran police officer, is making use of the fact that Kansas is one of only six states that allows for members of the public to petition for a grand jury. That’s just what she is doing in response to how a case in which she is the victim.
Smith reported a rape while a student at Bethany College. It was the worst night of her life — by her own admission what started Feb. 11, 2018 as consensual turned violent — and when she asked for the encounter to stop, it did not. When she tried to physically stop violence against her, it did not stop.
She told investigators she was slapped across the face and strangled with bond hands several times. She she struggled, he squeezed harder and she started to lose consciousness. There had been no discussion or agreement for that kind activity.
She has been trying to recover for more than two years from an evening that left more than bruises on her face and physical wounds.
There was a Title IX investigation by Bethany College and the aggressor, last name Sotlzenberg, was found to be in violation of college’ Sexual Misconduct Policy and Complaint Resolution Procedures and suspended from campus.
But according to Smith and her legal team, McPherson County Attorney Greg Benefiel has refused to pursue rape charges against her attacker. That’s not to say he has not prosecuted — Stolzenberg pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated battery. His sentencing on those charges is scheduled for Aug. 21.
Smith said she has felt revictimized by the prosecutor’s office — being told there is nothing that can be done to prosecute the crime of rape. Apparently, the encounter starting as consensual is a problem.
"Greg Benefiel has revictimized me multiple times ... the things he has said, like calling this immature sex and saying there is nothing he can do, when there is so much evidence I have given him.," Smith said.
She said the charges discussed with her have been changed, repeatedly, without communication from the prosecutor’s office. The evidence she gave included medical exams, notes from her therapy, photos of her injuries, expert witnesses and testimony.
She collected 426 signatures on a petition to request a grand jury trial, well more than the 335 needed to start a grand jury. That petition was rejected, as not all pages of signatures collected had a co-signing witness.
Smith, her family and advocates held a petition drive in McPherson a few weeks ago, and believe there are enough signatures on her second petition to file for a grand jury.
Citizens can call a grand jury after collecting signatures equivalent to 2 percent of votes cast in a county in the last gubernatorial election, plus 100. According to findlaw.com, a grand jury does not find or determine guilt or punishment of a potential defendant. Instead, a prosecutor will work with a grand jury to decide whether to bring criminal charges or an indictment against a potential defendant -- usually reserved for serious felonies.