A Kansas woman used a 134-year-old state law to convene a citizen grand jury after prosecutors declined to bring rape charges for a sexual encounter she alleges turned into assault.
Madison Smith, 22, collected hundreds of signatures needed to gather a grand jury, which she did by sharing her story with strangers in a parking lot, according to the Associated Press. She went through the process twice because her initial petition was dismissed due to a technicality.
Kansas is one of six states that allow citizens to use an 1887 law to petition for grand juries. The outlet notes that law was rarely used until anti-abortion activists starting using it to impanel grand juries to investigate abortion clinics.
The case is set to be considered in September and is the first time the law is used to prove a sexual assault.
Smith alleges that in 2018, while a student at Bethany College in Lindsborg, she ran into Jared Stolzenburg while doing laundry and they eventually made their way to his dorm to have sex. After it started out consensually, Smith alleged, 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 pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and receive two years’ probation for his actions, but Smith argued that is not enough.
“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.”
Smith’s mother was told in a recorded conversation with McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benefiel that the case would be difficult to prosecute because she did not verbally withdraw consent. However, Smith argued she could not do it because she was being choked.
Benefiel later told the outlet that the case would be hard to prosecute because they search “for that CSI type of evidence.” Benefiel added both he and Smith want “truth and justice” in the case.
AP’s report states that Stolzenburg said he should have communicated better with Smith and that he “does feel sorry for the victim.” Stolzenburg’s defense attorney Brent Boyer said during the sentencing hearing that his client’s family had received death threats and he wants to “move forward.”
Minnesota prosecutor Julie Germann reviewed the law Smith is using to convene a grand jury and claims the incident is worthy of a rape charge when the entire case is observed.
“This idea that because she consented, then anything that follows is acceptable, that is a very dangerous precedent to set,” Germann said.
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