Supporters of Maddesyn George

Supporters of Maddesyn George gather outside the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse in downtown Spokane on Wednesday. George, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribe of Indians, was sentenced to six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of a man she said sexually assaulted her in July 2020. 

A federal judge found Wednesday a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation was credible in her claim she was sexually assaulted by a man she later shot and killed.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson sentenced Maddesyn George of Nespelem to 6 ½ years in federal custody Wednesday after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and possession of methamphetamine she’d taken from the man she killed, Kristopher Graber.

“I hope that this at some point begins your new life,” Peterson told George, who has been incarcerated since the July 2020 shooting on the Colville Reservation.

The case against George, who will turn 28 next month, had drawn attention from organizations supporting the rights of Indigenous women and victims of sexual violence in recent weeks. Groups including the YWCA of Spokane, the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others penned letters to Peterson on her behalf, condemning the U.S. Attorney’s Office for pursuing the charges and a longer sentence for George.

The defense team had been seeking a five-year sentence, arguing George was motivated by fear of the man who she said raped her. The government had argued for a 17-year sentence, arguing George shot and killed Graber after stealing his cash and drugs.

“This was a drug trafficking case that ended in death,” said Alison Gregoire, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who handled the prosecution. “The government will always prosecute a drug trafficking case that ended in a death.”

Members of Graber’s family, who knew him as “Buddy,” accused George of lying in an attempt to be granted leniency.

“He might have been a lot of things,” said Rainy Graber, Kristopher Graber’s niece, amid sobs behind a mask in court on Wednesday morning, “but he was not a rapist.”

Rainy Graber described an uncle who’d been building her a room at the family home in Omak. Others acknowledged Kristopher Graber’s history of drug abuse, but also as a loving father who couldn’t escape addiction but who was incapable of the crime that George said prompted her to kill him.

“We are here to defend him, the real victim today,” said Lisa Anderson, Graber’s stepsister.

George told police in a recorded interview after her arrest that Graber had used a sexual object to assault her. His gun was nearby. She told investigators that she later left the home as Graber slept, taking his drugs and cash.

Several family members addressed George in the courtroom. She was seated 50 feet away at a table wearing a medical mask and clothed in prison scrubs. They said he wasn’t alive to defend himself against her accusations, which they said were false.

“I just don’t understand you at all,” said his sister, Lisa Graber.

A woman who helped clean Kristopher Graber’s home said she arrived shortly after the alleged rape, and said George appeared “flirtatious” with Graber, licking his face. Another woman, who picked George up from the home while Graber was sleeping, said George bragged about robbing him while driving to a nearby casino that evening.

The next day, Graber confronted George at a friend’s home on reservation land while she was sitting in a car with what was left of the methamphetamine, more than $5,000 in cash and Graber’s gun. She fired through the window once, killing him, an act George apologized for Wednesday.

“I let my daughter down,” George said, sobbing, referring to a child who was 4 months old at the time of the shooting. “I don’t want to be a disaster anymore.”

Stephen Graham, the attorney representing George, told Peterson that he objected to the evidence from the government that appeared to show George was not acting fearfully after the incident.

“I view it as axiomatic, that there’s no right way or expected way for a rape survivor to act,” he said.

Peterson later said she agreed, ruling the testimony of the two witnesses was not a factor in her decision to grant a more lenient sentence than prosecutors wanted.

Graham also told Peterson the case showed there was an imbalance of justice for Indigenous women and his client had been mischaracterized by the prosecution.

“It hasn’t been a fair investigation or a fair prosecution,” Graham said.

Peterson said she was swayed to grant a shorter sentence by a mandate from Congress, through recent legislation promoting services for victims of domestic violence among other priorities.

“I find that Ms. George falls exactly in that situation,” Peterson said.

U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Vanessa Waldref issued a statement after the ruling saying her office was committed to investigating violent crime on the reservation and across the district.

“In this case, it is a fact that the defendant was an Indigenous woman who killed an unarmed person because she did not want to return the drugs and money she had stolen from him,” Waldref said in the statement. “It is also a fact that many violent crimes against Indigenous women have historically gone unsolved and unprosecuted.

“Both injustices must be addressed, in an evenhanded way by people who have command of, respect for, and a responsibility to, all the facts,” she continued.

George’s mother, Jody George, said after the hearing she was relieved by the result.

“I feel like I can finally breathe,” she said. “It’s been a long fight. I feel like I just knew that the way they portrayed Maddy in the prosecutor’s office was awful.”

Jody George said she believed her daughter, who waved to supporters and wiped away tears in the courtroom before being escorted back into custody in handcuffs, would work hard in prison to kick her drug addiction.

“I think she has it in her heart. I think she can do it,” Jody George said. She said her daughter had been looking for drug treatment programs offered in federal prisons.

Members of Graber’s family met with prosecutors before leaving the courthouse.

The niece, Rainy Graber, said she also hoped Maddesyn George would find treatment behind bars.

“I’m feeling really mixed,” Rainy Graber said. “I wish she would have gotten more time.”

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