10 years in prison for woman who killed IU student in DUI hit and run in 2022

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (IUSTV News) — 10 years in prison followed by two years of probation—that’s the sentence a judge handed Monday to Madelyn Howard, the woman who pleaded guilty last month to drunk driving in a hit and run that killed IU student Nathaniel Stratton in September 2022.

Howard will also have her license suspended for 16 years, the maximum amount of time the state could take away her driving privileges.

During the nearly eight-hour sentencing hearing Monday, Judge Darcie Fawcett heard emotional testimony from Nathaniel Stratton’s family, who detailed 20 months of pain and sorrow that have came since Nate’s death. Fawcett also listened to witness testimony from both sides of the case.

Howard was originally set to stand trial at the end of February, but it was cancelled just days before when Howard expressed interest in taking a plea deal.

In March, Howard pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, a level 3 felony, and one of the two counts of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, a level 4 felony. In exchange, the state agreed to dismiss the remaining charges, which was another count of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, a level 4 felony, and reckless homicide, a level 5 felony.

After the sentencing, Monroe County Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Kerr said that under Indiana law, Howard was not legally allowed to be sentenced for the level 4 count of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated since she pleaded guilty to the level 3 charge. As a result, Howard was sentenced on the amended level 3 felony charge to 12 years in prison, with two of those years served on probation.

According to court documents, Howard left Kilroy’s Sports Bar in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, 2022, with a blood alcohol level of .226, which is almost three times the legal limit of .08.  She was drunk driving north on Walnut when she ran over Stratton, who was riding home on an electric scooter after leaving Raising Cane’s.

Using security video played in court Monday, prosecutors argued Howard should get a stricter sentence for willfully and intentionally leaving the scene of the accident, as Stratton laid critically injured in the crosswalk.

The gut-wrenching video, captured from the Domino’s on Walnut Street looking south, showed Howard’s car speeding down the road, veering into the bike lane and hitting Stratton before continuing north on Walnut.

Madelyn Howard’s defense team was the first to question witnesses Monday.

Howard’s priest, her former teachers and coach, best friend, and sister-in-law addressed the judge, saying Madelyn “had never exercised such poor judgement.”

Howard’s attorney also called on Dr. Polly Westcott, a neuropsychologist, to testify before the judge, and shared her findings of a neurologic assessment.

Westcott said the evaluation found that Howard likely did not remember what happened during the crash, because of excessive intoxication.

Dr. Westcott said the when a person is intoxicated, their brain shuts off access to the part of the brain that stores and retains memory. Despite this, however, Westcott said Howard would have been able to function, including talking to others and having some level of mobility, despite a lack of memory.

Dr. Westcott also pointed out that women, particularly younger and thinner women, feel the impacts of alcohol stronger and faster. Howard likely drank several drinks in a short period of time, which would have caused the spike in her BAC, Westcott said.

The prosecution was skeptical on how accurate the evaluation was, given that the assessment relies on the Howard’s answers to draw conclusions.

However, Westcott pushed back, saying the test has several indicators to show when someone is being deceitful or dishonest.

Elizabeth Stratton, Nate’s mom, was the first to give a victim impact statement to the court.

She read read from a letter she said she wrote Nate in 2008 that was put into a kindergarten time capsule—a letter that Nate never had the chance to read.

“I wonder what path you will choose to follow,” Elizabeth Stratton read aloud. “I can’t wait to see who you become.” 16 years after that letter was written, Elizabeth said that her family has suffered more than a year and a half of trauma.

“I wish everyday that it was me who was killed and not Nate,” Stratton said. “I have cried every day since Sept. 18.”

Nate would have graduated from Indiana University just two days before Howard’s sentencing hearing.

His mom described him as a smart, funny, and driven man. Elizabeth Stratton said Howard has used every possibility to avoid facing punishment.

Looking directly at Howard, Elizabeth Stratton sternly said “Nate would never have driven drunk.” Like prosecutors and the rest of her family, Elizabeth Stratton asked that Howard receive the maximum sentence.

“Madelyn is and will continue to be a danger to this community,” she said.

Abby Stratton, one of Nate’s sisters, was the next family member to take the stand to honor his life. “Today is the second-hardest day of my life,” she said as she sat near the judge. “Having to look Madelyn Howard in the eyes is agonizing.”

Abby shared how Nate loved IU. The family, who is from Minnesota, came to the campus for a tour the summer before Nate’s freshman year.

He quickly fell in love with the campus, she said, and despite starting college during a pandemic, Nate was able to make friends and build a community of people close to him.

“Even when he was struggling with things of his own, he always helped others,” Abby Stratton said. “I was always inspired with Nate’s resilience.

Cecilia Stratton, Nate’s other sister, was next to speak on her brother’s life and the impact of his death.

“You won’t even look me in the eyes,” she said looking at Madelyn across the courtroom. “Nate’s soul is screaming in this courtroom through our voices.”

Cecilia Stratton said that Nate was her best friend, soulmate, and brother.

“Without him, I’m not me,” she said.

Cecilia Stratton told the judge that Howard should have accepted guilt and responsibility sooner. She also said Howard is only showing emotions because she is facing time in prison.

“Cry for us, not yourself,” Cecilia told Madelyn. “You prioritized yourself.”

Brad Stratton, Nate’s father, was the last of the Stratton’s to take the stand Monday.

“Nate was a great son, a dedicated friend,” he said. “Nate would’ve been a great dad.”

Brad Stratton shared memories of the family’s last spring break trip with Nate, to Colorado to go skiing, which Brad said the family did often.

He said his son was a great skier and was often competitive with family.

“Grief is personal, but its a life sentence,” Stratton said.

Breaking down on the stand at times, Brad Stratton took most of his testimony to plead to the judge that he feels Howard needs a strict sentence, to not only ensure she doesn’t reoffend, but to send a message to the community that Monroe County does not tolerate drunk driving.

“Judge, this will be a slap in the face if it’s a suspended sentence,” he said. “Madelyn is a danger to our community, and must be held accountable.”

In the final few minutes of the sentencing hearing, Madelyn Howard herself had the opportunity to address the judge and the family.

Shedding tears the entire time she read her statement, Howard was held up by her attorney.

The 24-year-old said that this case has been a “nightmare that she hasn’t woke up from.”

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Nathaniel Stratton,” Howard said. “I sincerely apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Howard said that killing Nate while driving drunk was “far from her character.” Her family shed tears in the galley just feet away.

“I will never excuse my actions,” she said. “I will think about and remember this tragedy.”

After her statement, the prosecution and defense gave their final statements before Judge Fawcett handed down her sentence. Howard’s attorney pleaded that Madelyn did not reach out to the family or speak publicly because her defense team told her not to.

The defense argued that Howard has accepted responsibility for Nate’s death, and should have received a lesser sentence because of it.

Katharine Liell, Howard’s attorney, said that Howard having no previous criminal convictions should carry a sentence that reflected her past. But the prosecutor—and family—said it’s about Howard’s future and the possibility of her reoffending.

In the end, Judge Fawcett said that presiding over drunk driving cases are extremely difficult emotionally.

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

As Fawcett began to read her decision, corrections officers entered the courtroom, signifying a prison sentence was coming. Most of the courtroom began to shed a tear. Howard turned to her attorney and began to cry.

Fawcett said that the prosecution successfully argued that excessive intoxication, excessive speed and intentionally leaving the scene of the crash were aggravating factors and deserving of a higher sentence than the advisory sentence of nine years.

Because Howard has no previous criminal conviction, Fawcett said she could not be sentenced to the maximum of 16 years. Kerr said had she received the maximum, Howard likely would’ve won an appeal.

Howard’s attorney made on final push to ask that Howard be put in a purposeful incarceration program—a request that Judge Fawcett immediately denied.

Howard took off her earrings and necklace and corrections officers escorted her to the hallway, where she was put in handcuffs and walked off as Judge Fawcett and both families left the courtroom.