Madison Smith would not take no for an answer, especially after her alleged attacker did the same. Smith, who accused Jared Stolzenburg of raping her in 2018, convened her own grand jury when the prosecutor refused to file charges in a Kansas rape case.
“He then told me he was not filing charges,” Smith said during a court hearing, speaking about McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benefiel. The prosecutor claimed that the incident, which happened back in February 2018, could not be considered rape and therefore, Stolzenburg should not be charged as such.
Smith painted a different picture for hundreds of strangers in an attempt to invoke an 1887 frontier law originally used during a statewide prohibition in Kansas (one of only five states that have such a law). The law states that victims may convene their own grand jury if prosecutors refuse to file charges.
The issue is that the law required two percent of a county’s population plus 100 to sign a petition to convene the grand jury, which meant Smith needed to tell her story countless times before eventually collecting the 329 signatures needed. Smith went through this process twice, since her first petition was rejected on a technicality.
“It was very hard to keep retelling my story to stranger after stranger, but at the same time I knew that what I was doing was going to make a difference one way or another,” she said, having been forced to remember the traumatizing incident. But now, Madison Smith will finally get her chance at justice.
The events, which unfolded over three years ago, are still fresh on Smith’s mind. Her alleged attacker, Jared Stolzenburg, was in the laundry room when the two hit it off. Smith decided to go to his room and after things got heated, the two began engaging in consensual sex. Madison Smith then recalls Stolzenburg becoming violent, choking and slapping her repeatedly during the intercourse. It was then that Smith claims the consent vanished, though she couldn’t voice it during the attack.
“I tried to initially pull his hands off of my throat, and he squeezed harder every time,” Smith recalled. “He would strangle me for 20 to 30 seconds at a time, and I would begin to lose consciousness. When he would release his hands from my neck, the only thing I could do was gasp for air.”
Smith claimed during court hearings that Stolzenburg forced her to perform oral sex. She says she feared for her life. “I truly thought that he was going to kill me and the only way I was going to leave that room was in a body bag,” she explained.
Following the events, Smith went to her parents, saying that she was raped the night before. They quickly brought her to the hospital where she received an examination. A forensic exam revealed that she had various bruises on her neck and inside her mouth. The family attempted to file charges against Jared Stolzenburg, but Benefiel would not allow it.
“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 during a court hearing.
It wasn’t until Smith met Julie Germann, a former Minnesota prosecutor who specialized in sexual assault cases, that she found her first real ally. “I would contend that it is clear that if while strangling someone, they are pulling on your hands and gasping for breath, and they are crying, none of that sounds consensual to me,” Germann explained to The Washington Post. “I would not have a hard time taking that case to a jury at all.”
Though a full rape charge was intended, Stolzenburg was eventually charged with aggravated battery, in which he pleaded guilty. His two years’ probation was still not enough for Smith. Retired detective Justin Boardman brought the idea of the Kansas law to Smith, Germann, and the rest of the team. Smith worked hard to implement the law, and now she awaits September 29, when the case will be heard in front of the grand jury Smith succeeded in convening.
“Win or lose, we swung the bat, and we swung it hard,” Smith said to The Washington Post. “We tried everything we could, and we exhausted all our resources. I’ve got to know I tried.”