Lawrence man ordered to stand trial after woman testifies he raped her in his car

photo by: Chris Conde/ Journal-World

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center is pictured in September 2018.

A Lawrence man was ordered on Thursday to stand trial for rape after a woman testified that he had sex with her in his car and didn’t listen when she told him to stop.

The man, Malachi Trenton Starr, 23, is charged in Douglas County District Court with one felony count of rape by force or fear. The incident is alleged to have occurred in the early-morning hours of April 30, 2022.

The woman recalled the incident at Thursday’s hearing, but she said she hadn’t been prepared to do so. She said the state had previously told her that the hearing was canceled, and that she was just informed Thursday morning that it would actually be going on.

She testified that she had known Starr since high school, but that they had lost touch until she was a sophomore in college. She said she had matched with Starr on a dating app, and around the same time ran into him at a downtown restaurant; they spoke briefly there and agreed that they should meet up sometime, she said.

The next time she spoke to Starr, she said, was after she went to a fraternity party at the University of Kansas.

The woman said she had about five or six drinks at the party, and when she and her roommates were leaving she messaged Starr on the dating app hoping that he would give them a ride to her sorority house about a mile away. She testified that they wanted a ride home because it was raining and one of her roommates had gotten sick.

Starr did not immediately offer her a ride, she said. But the two exchanged a few messages, she testified, and he asked whether she was interested in having sex with him. She said she replied with “sure,” in hopes that it would mean she and her roommates would get a ride home.

Thomas Bath, one of Starr’s attorneys, asked the woman why she responded to Starr’s question in that way. The woman reiterated that it was raining and she also said she may have been interested at the time but then decided against it later.

“Maybe I wanted to have sex when I sent it and I changed my mind. I can do that,” the woman said.

The women ended up walking back to the sorority house; only once they arrived did the woman receive another message from Starr offering her a ride, she testified. When she told him she didn’t need a ride anymore, he asked if she wanted to meet up. She testified that she had wanted a chance to catch up with Starr, so she agreed to go with him.

After that, she said, Starr picked her up and drove to the parking lot of a hotel. She said she thought it was strange, since they had not discussed going to a hotel.

“I remember feeling kind of scared. He was driving really fast,” the woman said.

She said they sat in the car for a while and talked about their lives since high school, and at one point they kissed. After that, she testified, Starr leaned over her, reclined her seat and raped her.

“I said ‘no, I was too drunk to do that’; then, he had sex with me,” the woman testified.

She said she told Starr no multiple times, but when she realized he wasn’t stopping, she “shut down.” She said she was also afraid that Starr might have weapons in the car because of the “type of people” he hung out with in high school.

“I was just trying to survive. I was just scared,” the woman said.

After that, the woman said Starr took her back to her sorority house and she “stumbled” back inside in shock.

She then called a friend who took her to her parents’ house; there, she said, she told her mother what happened, and her mother took her to get a sexual assault exam.

The woman testified that the exam was just a precaution at first, because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to report the incident to police.

“I was scared nothing was going to happen about it after hearing stories from other women,” she said.

But a few days later, she said, she called police and met with an officer and a detective. She said the detective advised her to contact Starr again and try to get him to confess to assaulting her. The woman had deleted Starr’s information from the dating app, she testified, and did not have another way to contact him until she ran into him at a downtown event and got his number.

Then, she testified, she called him and recorded the call. She said that he admitted to having sex with her and that he said, “I remember you saying no, no, no, but then I did it anyway.”

The woman was the only witness to testify at Thursday’s hearing. After her testimony, Judge Amy Hanley said there was probable cause to believe a crime had occurred. She said it would be up to a jury to weigh the woman’s credibility, and she scheduled a trial for Oct. 28.

Also on Thursday, Hatem Chahine, the other attorney for Starr, asked Hanley to modify Starr’s bond. Starr, who was arrested in July 2023, had been released on a $20,000 own-recognizance bond in October 2023. But Chahine said that one of the conditions of Starr’s bond was strict house arrest with GPS monitoring; he said Starr had been compliant with the conditions and would like a chance to work.

Hanley confirmed with court services that Starr had been compliant and agreed to lift his house arrest, but left the GPS monitoring condition in place.

Starr has been on diversion in a separate case in Douglas County since September 2022. He was charged in that case with four felony counts of distributing counterfeit currency for a series of incidents in November 2021, according to court records. As part of his diversion agreement, he stipulated to the fact that he exchanged fake $100 bills for smaller bills at four businesses on Massachusetts Street.