When Madison Brooks was struck and killed by a car on 15 January, very few details were revealed about the circumstances surrounding her death.
The 19-year-old Louisiana State University student was remembered by her friends and family as a bright and joyful young woman who had a lasting effect on everyone she met. Her sorority sisters at Alpha Phi said that Madi — as she was known to those who loved her — had made the ultimate gesture that conveyed her generous personality by donating her heart and kidneys to save others.
But as her loved ones reeled from the sudden loss, the case took an unimaginable turn on 23 January when the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office announced the tragedy was not arbitrary, as initially thought. The department accused four men of directly participating in or witnessing an alleged sexual assault of a very impaired and unable-to-consent Brooks before dropping her off on a dark side of the roadway where she would later be fatally injured.
Kaivon Deondre Washington, 18, and a 17-year-old male who was not identified because he is a minor have now been charged with third-degree rape for the alleged assault on Brooks. Mr Washington’s uncle Everette Lee, 28, and Casen Carver, 18, are facing charges of principal to rape for failing to intervene.
The allegations have sparked outrage in the community of Baton Rouge, with fellow LSU students, parents and the university’s president demanding that the suspects be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Ahead of a court appearance the day after their arrest, an attorney for the defendants claimed that a video of their interaction with Brooks proved she was “intoxicated” but not to point that she couldn’t give consent when she had sex with the men.
But the video backfired, as a judge has determined that, if anything, the tape reinforces their disregard for Brooks’ life and violation of her rights.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
What happened to Madison Brooks?
Brooks and the four suspects met at Reggie’s bar in Baton Rouge on 14 January. Footage from the bar shows Brooks falling over several times, stumbling and struggling to stand in front of at least one of the suspects before they left the bar together, according to an arrest warrant obtained by KSLA.
Before the group left the bar, Mr Carver alleged in a police interview, Brooks asked them to drop her off.
Mr Carver told authorities that Mr Washington and the unidentified minor defendant asked Brooks to have sex.
Although Mr Carver said that Brooks consented to engage in intercourse, he admitted that she was “very unstable on her feet, was not able to keep her balance, and was unable to speak clearly without slurring her words.”
When asked by investigators if he believed Brooks was too impaired to consent, Mr Carver reportedly said: “I guess.”
Mr Washington and the minor then allegedly proceeded to rape Brooks in the car while Mr Lee, the only adult in the group, stepped out of the vehicle, according to an arrest affidavit. Mr Carver later told police that he “felt uncomfortable and hated it”.
The men then dropped Brooks off in a neighbourhood near Pelican Lakes Parkway. While standing in a dark portion of the roadway around 3am on 15 January, Brooks was hit by a vehicle and died hours later in the hospital.
Her blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit at the time of her death and her autopsy shows injuries consistent with a sexual assault, authorities said.
The defence version of events
Ron Haley, an attorney for Mr Washington and the underage suspect, has challenged the charges, claiming that video of the incident showed Brooks “was intoxicated” but not to point that she could not “lawfully give consent or answer questions” during intercourse.
Mr Haley said Brooks exited the vehicle after an “argument.”
“Absolutely not a rape. Listen this is a tragedy, definitely not a crime,” Mr Haley told KSLA. “Can you tell, that she was intoxicated, yes. To the point under the law that you say you’re in a drunken stupor, to the point that you cannot lawfully give consent or answer questions, absolutely that was not the case.”
Mr Haley also said that Brooks allegedly told the suspects that she was going to order an Uber after an argument unfolded.
“Based on a disagreement, she got out of the vehicle. She indicated she was getting an Uber,” Mr Haley alleged. “I want the public to know, these young men or really the driver of the vehicle and the young men that were in there, did not put her off on the side of the road.”
Video ‘proof’ backfires
At a bond hearing on Tuesday, 19th Judicial District Judge Brad Myers said that he had watched the video filmed by one of the four suspects inside the car with Brooks.
The judge said that the video shows the suspects “callously” laughing at the drunk 19-year-old woman as she slurred her words, reported local outlet WAFB.
He also reviewed footage taken from Reggie’s Bar which showed Brooks falling over and struggling to stand in front of at least one of the suspects before they left the bar together.
The judge concluded that – based on the video, footage from Reggie’s bar and statements made by Mr Carver to investigators – it was clear that a crime had occurred that fateful night.
“The evidence to me is clear,” he said.
Prosecutors in the case have since vowed to upgrade the charges against the alleged attackers. Prosecutor Stuart Theriot said at the intial hearing that the state would seek upgraded charges of first-degree rape and planned to convene a grand jury in the case.
On 25 January, Mr Lee and Mr Carter, who are facing charges of principal to rape, were released after posting bonds of $75,000 and $50,000, respectively. Mr Washington and the underage suspect, accused of rape in the third degree, remain in jail, local news station WBRZ reported.
Under the bond terms, the released suspects were ordered not to make social media posts about the case or make contact with Brooks’ family, to submit for random drug testing and be placed on house arrest and to wear an ankle monitor. The 17-year-old’s bond hearing has been postponed to February.
Bar where ordeal began faces punishment
In a statement after the charges against the four suspects were announced, LSU President William F Tate said that the university would also investigate why Reggie’s bar may have been serving alcohol to minors on the night of Brooks’ death.
“Madison was a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a classmate, and a friend to many of you. By all accounts, she was an amazing young woman with limitless potential,” Mr Tate said.
“She should not have been taken from us in this way. What happened to her was evil, and our legal system will parcel out justice.”
He continued: “In the coming days, we will call a meeting with these business owners to discuss how their responsibilities directly impact the safety of our students. We will work openly against any business that doesn’t join us in efforts toward creating a safer environment for our students. Enough is enough.”
On 24 January, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control announced that it was issuing an emergency suspension for Reggie’s bar.
The agency cited “the seriousness of the allegations and the potential threat to public safety”.
“This action immediately suspends the service or sale of alcoholic beverages at these locations,” it said in a statement.
The state agency said that an emergency hearing will be held in February to determine what penalties, if any, should be imposed “following a presentation of the evidence”.
Kris Perret, an attorney for Reggie’s Bar, said in a statement to NOLA.com that the owner “has fully cooperated with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana State Police and the East Baton Rouge ABC office since their first requests for assistance in their ongoing investigations and will continue to do so”.
This isn’t the first time the bar – located in the area dubbed Tigerland – has come under scrutiny.
In 2016, LSU tight end Dillon Gordon was allegedly stabbed at the bar. Before that, a woman was allegedly raped in the parking lot and a man pointed a loaded gun at patrons, according to The Advocate.
’She was pure joy and light’
In the wake of her sudden and tragic death, tributes have poured in from loved ones of Brooks.
LSU’s Alpha Phi chapter paid tribute to its sorority sister in a post on the group’s Facebook page.
“Madison was a sophomore and made a lasting impact on all of us,” the statement read.
“She was also a hero and was able to donate her heart and kidneys to save others. We send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this incredibly difficult time. And we respectfully ask for time and space so we may support each other in our healing process. AOE”
Brooks’ grandfather Kert LeBlanc also issued a heartfelt statement on his Facebook profile.
“She was pure joy and light. She made us so very proud. We will miss her terribly. Please keep our family in your prayers as we navigate through this difficult time,” Mr LeBlanc wrote.
Tiffani Carlini Roberston, the mother of a female student at LSU, wrote in a touching post that Brooks’ memory “is in the heart of every woman attending LSU as well as their mothers.” Ms Roberston said Brooks’s story had resonated with many in the local community and made them realise that there is a bigger conversation to be had.
“We may never rid the world of sexual assault, but Madi’s beautiful life is bringing awareness of sexual assault to a generation that till now has kept their pain to themselves,” she told The Independent. “Our hearts are breaking for this family we’ve never known.”