Free Maddesyn George Campaign
On Wednesday, November 17, Colville tribal member Maddesyn George is scheduled to appear at the Thomas Foley Federal Courthouse in Spokane, Washington at 9:00 a.m. for her sentencing hearing. The courtroom is open to the press and public.
Ms. George is facing up to 17 years in prison for a case that her supporters claim should never have been prosecuted.
On July 12, 2020, Ms. George shot Kristopher Paul Graber in self-defense after he raped and threatened her. The facts of the case were never presented to a jury. Instead, facing a murder charge, Ms. George did what most marginalized people are compelled to do in the United States: she accepted a plea deal. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a charge for drug possession with intent to distribute. The standard sentencing range for these charges is 9–11 years, but Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Gregoire and Richard Barker have argued for an upward adjustment to 17 years in prison and lifetime state supervision.
Ms. George’s supporters are outraged by this extreme sentencing recommendation, which is based on the prosecutors’ denial of her victimization and self-defense claim. In a memorandum filed by the court ahead of Ms. George’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregoire and Assistant U.S. Attorney Barker effectively argued that because Mr. Graber's family and friends say he was a "good guy," because Ms. George and Mr. Graber were friends, because Ms. George stole money and drugs from Mr. Graber, and because Ms. George has a criminal record, that she is lying about the rape. Meanwhile the prosecutors have willfully omitted Mr. Graber’s criminal record of violence against multiple women.
Ms. George’s case has drawn the attention of numerous advocates, activists, scholars, and organizations that work on issues of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, sexual and domestic violence, policing and incarceration, and racial and gender justice. More than 8,500 individuals and nearly 90 social justice organizations from across the U.S. and Canada have endorsed a call for the charges to be dropped before George’s sentencing hearing.
On Monday, November 8, the Campaign to Free Maddesyn George held a virtual press conference featuring attorney and award-winning playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle and scholars Val Kalei Kanuha, Alisa Bierria, Dian Million, and Megan Ybarra. Each speaker expressed their full and unwavering support for Maddesyn.
Dr. Dian Million, Associate Professor and Chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, reminded attendees of the colonial backdrop to George’s case: “The fact that Native American and Alaska Native women have been dehumanized throughout U.S. history informs present day attitudes. It helps fuel the high rates of sexual violence perpetrated against them and the high levels of impunity enjoyed by their attackers who still operate with the sanction of a frontier mentality.”
Mary Kathryn Nagle, an attorney with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, also spoke to the issue of legal impunity for sexual violence: “Most often the United States Attorney’s Office will not prosecute the sexual assault of a Native woman, a Native person, or a Native child. Why? It's not a priority to them. So long as our United States Attorney's Offices refuse to take these crimes seriously, refuse to investigate them or prosecute them, our women understand the message very clearly: Either you protect yourself or you will not be protected.”
Likewise, Dr. Kalei Kanuha, Teaching Professor and Assistant Dean at the University of Washington School of Social Work, said Ms. George’s case “epitomizes ... the engrained manner in which the U.S. and tribal court systems continue to uphold racist, heterosexist and colonial treatment of victims.”
Dr. Alisa Bierria, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at the University of California Los Angeles, spoke to the ways in which the criminal legal system requires survivors “to conform to a fantasy of ‘perfect victim’ in order to be considered credible. Survivors are expected to have enough resources to leave a dangerous situation, to have perfect evidence of the abuse, to feel the perfect amount of fear without ever being angry, to never break the law while trying to manage the violence happening to them, and to never fight back or only resist within extremely narrow and unrealistic expectations.”
Finally, Dr. Megan Ybarra, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Washington, emphasized that, if Ms.George is sentenced to prison on Wednesday, the closest federal prison for women is located more than 1,000 miles away from her home and 19-month-old daughter. “Even as settlers grapple with the recent history of the violence that Native children faced in boarding schools ... less publicly acknowledged is that criminal punishment is a rising source of family separation, especially for Black and Indigenous mothers.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Ms. George’s supporters are imploring the U.S. Attorney’s Office to recognize her right to self-defense and vacate the charges.