Madison Smith’s journey is not complete, despite the former college classmate who attacked her in February of 2018 being sentenced on aggravated battery charges in August.
To her, 24 months of probation is not enough of a sentence for what happened on the night of Feb. 11, 2018 — and the charges filed by the McPherson County Attorney did not reflect what happened that night.
At sentencing, Ms. Smith gave a victim impact statement, stating in part,
"The criminal justice system has failed me," Smith said an impact statement during the sentencing of her attacker. "In my first meeting with County Attorney Greg Benefiel, he told me the rape I had experienced wasn’t a rape, but was ‘immature sex.’ Then he told me he wasn’t filing charges. I was devastated… those words he said revictimized me… the one person I believed was supposed to fight for the victim on the legal side has pushed me aside, stalling, and waiting for me to give up… I won’t ever give up. Ever."
Give up she did not. She and her advocates mounted two different petition drives for the convening for a Grand Jury — the first petition was rejected, as not all pages of signatures collected had a co-signing witness.
During a second petition dive, volunteers secured 332 approved signatures on her petition, exceeding the required 329 signatures and meeting the statutory requirements of the Ninth District Court of McPherson County. On Sept. 28, the court notified Smith that a grand jury would be impaneled sometime after January 2021, when Kansas jury trials are approved to resume following COVID-19 restrictions.
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.
Kansas is one of only six states in which a citizen can call a grand jury. In Kansas, a petition for grand jury myst have signatures equivalent to two percent of votes cast in a county in the last gubernatorial election, plus 100.
Smith reported a rape while a student at Bethany College. It was the worst night of her life — by her own admission what started 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 and strangled with both hands several times. As she struggled, her attacker squeezed harder and she started to lose consciousness. There had been no discussion or agreement for that kind activity.
There was a Title IX investigation by Bethany College which found Jared Stolzenburg to be in violation of college’ Sexual Misconduct Policy and Complaint Resolution Procedures and suspended from campus.
In August 2020, Stolzenburg was sentenced to 24 months of probation for aggravated battery. He did not to face any sexual assault charges, pleading guilty to the single count of battery.
Smith petitioned the court for a grand jury investigation into her case, seeking a new prosecutor. If the Grand Jury finds cause to file rape charges, there willl be a new trial.
"Madison Smith’s resilient inner strength and powerful support system are helping to blaze new pathways for survivors to achieve procedural justice in a system that is unfortunately not designed to work for them," said Det. Justin Boardman (Ret.), a nationally-recognized in trauma-informed protocols for the justice system who is consulting on Ms. Smith’s case.