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The Indiana Daily Student

city crime & courts

IU alumna sentenced to 10 years in prison, 2 years probation for 2022 hit-and-run death of IU student

Crime Filler

Madelyn Howard, an IU alumna who pleaded guilty in March to the hit-and-run killing of IU student Nate Stratton, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and two additional years of probation Monday. 

On September 18, 2022, now 24-year-old Howard struck and killed Stratton while drunk driving. Nearly two years later, families and friends of both Stratton and Howard gathered Monday in the Monroe County Courthouse to hear her sentencing. 

Howard pleaded guilty to two felonies on March 6, 2024. She pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident while intoxicated a level 3 felony and operating a vehicle while intoxicated a level 4 felony. Howard was officially charged for only the level 3 felony, as the court ruled operating a vehicle while intoxicated was inherent in the accident.  

The maximum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident and driving while intoxicated is 16 years in total, with a minimum of three. The default sentence for such a felony is nine years, provided no extenuating circumstances.  

Stratton, a 20-year-old IU student, was killed after Howard veered into the bicycle lane at the intersection of North Walnut Street and East 12th Street. Howard was driving home from Kilroy’s Sports Bar, where she was an employee. She struck him as he rode an electric scooter home from Raising Cane’s around 2 a.m.   

Court documents say Howard continued to drive for more than four blocks on Walnut Street, two blocks east on 17th Street, then two more blocks north on Lincoln Street before finally stopping due to the damage to her car. Once the car stopped, one witness told police a group of people approached Howard and her passenger to notify them that they had been dragging a scooter beneath the car. Video from an Uber driver showed the car turning on 17th Street after the crash, dragging the scooter underneath it and kicking up sparks.   

Police were unable to determine the vehicle’s exact speed, but surveillance footage seems to show Howard traveling at a speed significantly faster than other cars in the area. Dustin Bowman, a Bloomington resident who witnessed the crash happen live, said he thought Howard might have been going over 60 miles per hour.  

According to court documents, Howard had a blood alcohol level of .226 — almost three times the legal limit of .08.  

“People need to be held accountable for their actions,” Nate’s dad, Brad Stratton, told the IDS in March. “We're looking for the maximum sentence for this judge to enforce, and we think that should send a message to the community that this is inexcusable.”  

Monday’s hearing began at 9 a.m. Prior to the sentencing, witnesses were called to the stand on behalf of both parties.  

Stratton's mother, father, two older sisters, and longtime best friend took the witness stand in his memory. The back of the courtroom was lined with friends he had made in Bloomington. His grandparents, both over 80 years old, were among numerous extended family members present.  

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Ceci Stratton, one of Nate Stratton's two older sisters, holds a photo of him outside a courtroom at Monroe County Courthouse. The photo overlooked the courtroom from the prosecution’s bench for the duration of the hearing.

Elizabeth Stratton, Nate’s mother, read a letter she wrote to him when he was in kindergarten to put in a time capsule.  

“I can’t wait to see who you become,” the letter concluded. “Love, Mom.” 

In addition to character testimonies, the prosecution and the defense each called experts and government officials to speak on the logistics of the case.  

Dr. Polly Westcott, a neuropsychologist who appears regularly in trials across Indiana, was called to testify about Howard’s mental faculty during and after the crash. Howard said she had no memory of the crash but was able to recall moments leading up to and following the crash.  

Westcott said that it was likely Howard experienced a blackout due to excessive alcohol consumption. Westcott also said Howard may have had a trauma response when the vehicle struck Stratton, causing her brain to not store the memory of the incident.  

The state argued that there was no way to reliably prove deception beyond taking Howard’s word for it, adding the evaluation Westcott performed took place nearly a year after the crash took place.  

Westcott said she didn’t believe the time discrepancy was a factor and said the tests she conducted were evidential beyond just taking someone at their word. She added that in her psychological evaluations of Howard, she showed no signs of trying to distort the truth about the crash throughout several reliable tests. 

The state called some police officers who were present at the scene or involved with the case to review case details and evidence.  

Video surveillance from a Domino’s near the site of the crash showed Howard’s car driving on the sidewalk, causing a pedestrian to jump out of the way. One of Stratton’s shoes can be seen flying down the sidewalk and landing in front of the Domino’s, nearly 100 feet from where he was struck. 

Detective Kevin Frank of the Bloomington Police Department presented a crash reconstruction estimating that Howard’s vehicle drove on the sidewalk for over 200 feet before returning to the road.  

Before deliberation, Howard offered a statement of allocution. The Stratton family expressed their anger multiple times prior that neither Howard nor the Howard family had contacted them in the 20 months since the incident.  

In her statement, Howard expressed remorse.  

“I will never excuse my acts,” she said. “If I had known that I struck Nathaniel, I would have run into oncoming traffic to help him.” 

The Stratton family sat stone-faced as Howard delivered her statement. 

Katharine Liell, Howard’s attorney, said in her concluding remarks that it was her decision to prohibit the Howard family from contacting the Strattons, and that it should not be held against Howard herself.  

Jeffery Kehr, attorney for the state, concluded by recommending the maximum sentence of 16 years for Howard. He said that the excessive amount of intoxication, the speed of the vehicle, and the high foot traffic in the area should be aggravators in the case, meaning factors warranting a longer sentence than the standard nine years.  

Liell countered that Howard having never offended before should mitigate the punishment she receives. Liell also said Howard’s level of intoxication was the reason for her leaving the scene, and that she would not have done so under normal circumstances.  

Judge Darcie Fawcett, who presided over the case, delivered her verdict around 4:45 p.m. Monday. 

“There are moments where words can just do nothing to help,” she said. “This is one of those moments.” 

Fawcett issued Howard the final verdict of 10 years in an Indiana correctional facility, with an additional two years of probation. She also suspended Howard’s driver’s license for 16 years.  

Fawcett cited excessive intoxication and speed as her primary aggravators and said that Howard’s level of intoxication could not be used as an excuse for leaving the scene.  

Fawcett did acknowledge that because Howard was not a prior offender, Fawcett couldn’t sentence her to the maximum of 16 years.  

When Fawcett delivered the verdict, both families’ faces shone with tears. Ceci and Abby Stratton, Nate’s two sisters, held each other tightly. Madelyn Howard sobbed as Fawcett spoke. 

A few police officers from the Bloomington Police Department and Indiana State Police entered the courtroom to take Howard into custody. 

Both families hugged their respective attorneys as they slowly filed out of the courtroom. Stratton’s family took down the portrait of Nate that had overlooked the hearing all day from the state’s side of the courtroom. 

“There’s no victory in this for anyone,” Brad Stratton said after the hearing.  

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