Lawrence man found not guilty of raping two college students

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A Lawrence man was found not guilty on Tuesday of raping two college students he met at a New Year’s Eve celebration three years ago.

The women’s family and friends packed the courtroom, gasping and crying as the verdict was read. As they left the courtroom, one woman said loudly, “This is why rapes keep happening.”

Chastleton J. Malone, now 24, had faced three counts of rape for having sex with the women who were incapable of giving their consent because of the effect of any alcoholic liquor, narcotic, drug or other substance.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for five hours before returning not guilty verdicts on each of the three counts. One male juror was dismissed as an unneeded alternate prior to deliberation.

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez and Deputy DA Josh Seiden led the prosecution. They asserted that Malone, who had met the women just after midnight, was an unwelcome guest when they returned home in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2020.

The women, who asked to be referred to by pseudonyms Abigail and Eliza to protect their identities, alleged that they may have been drugged during a large party at The Nest, a large townhome complex in southern Lawrence. Both said that after midnight they became increasingly confused and physically weakened to a degree that didn’t correlate with their alcohol consumption.

In testimony on Friday, Malone, who graduated from KU in 2021, said the women flirted with him and invited him to an after-party, and then were willing, sober sexual participants later that evening. On Tuesday, Malone’s retained defense attorney, Michael Duma, called the allegations “a case of post-coital regret.”

Closing arguments began at 9 a.m. with Seiden telling the jury that much of the trial had focused on what led up to and followed the events that resulted in the allegations. However, he said the jury’s main concern should be Malone’s actions once he and the two women returned to Eliza’s house.

“The only thing that matters is what happened in that bedroom,” Seiden said.

Seiden detailed each sex act that resulted in a charge of rape. Two of the charges were associated with Abigail, who was 18 at the time. The other charge was related to Eliza, then 19. The two were high school acquaintances who lived in neighboring Kansas towns and had remained friends over social media. New Year’s Eve 2019 was Abigail’s first time visiting Lawrence.

Seiden told jurors that there was no dispute that Malone had sex with both women that night. He attributed story inconsistencies and clarifications made by the women in the days after the incident to the nuances of questions asked by police, investigators and emergency room nurses. Seiden said each interviewer was asking questions for different purposes, which could lead to variations in the women’s answers.

“That’s going to impact the way the story is told,” he said.

Seiden said it also took time for the women to recover enough to realize what had happened because of their level of intoxication. They then delayed going to the hospital for a sexual assault nurse examiner — or SANE — screening until Jan. 2, 2020, because they were not yet ready to undergo the hours-long, invasive process.

DNA taken from inside the women’s bodies was later analyzed by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and found to match a DNA sample provided by Malone.

“(They were) piecing everything together,” Seiden said. “They were trying to process exactly what had happened.”

Duma said that while the prosecution and defense agreed on multiple parts of the story, they diverged at the characterization that Malone was stalking the women after meeting them, and that he wasn’t invited by the women to go to an after-party or to go home with them.

Duma also cited several prosecution witnesses, friends of the women who were with them on New Year’s Eve, who described Abigail and Eliza as “fine,” and who said “they were drinking but they knew what they were doing.”


“Ladies and gentlemen, someone is not telling the truth,” Duma said.

Several times the defense pointed to trauma-informed care as a reason why investigators didn’t push back when Eliza or Abigail’s stories varied. Duma said the women had simply created and adapted a story to fit their narrative, and police didn’t question their statements “no matter how ridiculous” they were.

Duma reiterated that both women’s blood alcohol levels registered 0.0 on Jan. 2, and said investigators chose not to test for traces of any date rape drugs because of the time that had elapsed. He faulted investigators for not testing what appeared to be bodily fluids found on bed sheets, not looking at potential evidence seen in a trash can, and failing to collect photos, texts and social media activity from the women’s phones.

“This is how innocent people get convicted,” Duma said.

Duma characterized Abigail, who said she had been sexually assaulted at the age of 15, as a “serial accuser with an ax to grind.”

“This case is not about consent,” he said. “It’s about who is telling the truth — whose story makes more sense.”

Malone had testified that he had sex with Eliza for 30 to 60 minutes while Abigail lay on the bed awake next to them. He said he noticed sometime later that Abigail was still awake. He testified that he then had sex with Abigail.

Duma reminded the jury that it was the state’s burden to prove the charges against Malone were true “beyond any reasonable doubt,” and that Malone had no duty to prove his own innocence.

“That is what is required to take someone’s freedom, their liberty, their life,” he said. “The state has not met that burden.”

Seiden had the last word with the jury. He revisited Duma’s focus on Abigail’s internet searches on SANE-related topics early in December 2019, and on the women’s denial about sharing mutual friends with Malone despite texts mentioning the man’s name. Seiden sought to discredit the implication that the women had somehow planned to “get this guy.”

Seiden said Duma was “weaponizing (Abigail’s) prior sexual assault” and told jurors that in criminal law you take your victims as you find them. He agreed with Duma that the two women did have regret, but it was not that they had had sex with Malone. It was that Malone had raped them.

“No degree of victim blaming and victim shaming is going to change that,” Seiden said.

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Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email,, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit to chat and learn more, 24/7.
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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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