MERIDIAN, Idaho — Grieving parents are frustrated by what they believe is a miscarriage of justice in the death of their daughter, Madeline Duskey, who was killed while crossing Eagle Road in a crosswalk.
In November of 2017, police say Adam Paulson got behind the wheel of his truck while drunk. In the early hours of the morning he hit and killed 24-year-old "Maddie" Duskey.
Paulson had a blood alcohol content level of .21, nearly three times the legal limit in Idaho. A jury convicted him of vehicular manslaughter.
A little over a week ago, Judge Deborah Bail sentenced Paulson to probation and community service with a suspended 15-year prison sentence.
Paulson received credit for 14 months he spent in jail awaiting trial. In addition to probation, he will pay child support for Duskey's children until they become adults.
Maddie's parents spoke publicly for the first on Thursday, in an interview with KTVB, and say there's an immeasurable void in their lives now that she's gone.
“It’s really uprooted my life,” Maddie’s mom, Crystal Markham-Brown said. “She's my only child, an essential part of my life. It's a big link that's missing.
“I'm going to share my truth that this is not easy and child loss is not easy," she added. "It is an out of order death."
“She was literally like sunlight,” said Maddie’s dad, Ben Duskey. “When Maddie walks into a room it lights up. Just how she made everybody feel around her. She was a special person.”
Crystal says she and her daughter were best friends, and she’ll desperately miss watching Maddie be the playful and loving mother to her own kids, Crystal’s only grandchildren. Maddie leaves behind a two- and four-year-old, who her parents say were her world.
“They will only know their mom through our memory. That's very hard,” Crystal said. “For me, I mean, it's just one day at a time. But I will forever talk about the danger of drinking and driving. I don't have a choice but to advocate.”
A 12 person jury found Adam Paulson guilty of vehicular manslaughter. But when the judge handed down his sentence of 15 years of probation, shock consumed Crystal and Ben. They couldn't believe that a man whose blood-alcohol content was almost three times the legal limit and who records show was already on probation for domestic violence at the time received probation and no prison time.
They feel there’s no justice, other than Ben finding comfort in the fact that 12 community members heard the evidence and found him guilty, agreeing with the family's stance. Maddie’s parents say the sentencing sent the wrong message entirely.
“With the person already being on probation when this happened, he already slipped through the cracks once and ended up our daughter," Ben said. "We had a celebration of life for her because he did slip through the cracks. Who has to be next? I guess that's the biggest slap in the face.”
"It felt like Maddie's life was pretty much meaningless from the beginning," Ben added. "She was just a speed bump that night in this person's way."
Crystal says if Paulson pled guilty or even took a plea bargain, she might feel differently about the outcome because they wouldn’t have had to sit through trial and hear the harsh details of what happened that night, how their daughter’s light was taken too soon. But rather, she says, Paulson maintained that he was not – and is not – guilty or at fault for taking their daughter.
“I was fixed to feeling like him going to prison for a little while would be good for his soul, good for him to reflect upon what he did," Crystal told KTVB. "And not just what he did but what he did prior to even taking Maddie’s life. I don't feel angry at Adam, I don’t feel angry. I feel like I'm concerned about the community, I’m concerned about the bigger picture.”
Her parents say the defense blamed Maddie for walking in the crosswalk late at night against the light.
“[They] kept pegging the pedestrian who always took an Uber, who was most likely going to take an Uber, they pushed blame onto her,” Crystal said. “She paid the ultimate price. So whatever she did, OK, she paid the price. We pay the price every day.”
“Hearing that Maddie didn't have a right to be on the road it ... but this person did," Ben said. "The minute he opened the door and put his keys in that ignition switch, he lost his right."
Maddie's parents know that no sentence – light or heavy - will bring their daughter back, but they want their sudden loss and hurt to make a difference.
"Nothing is going to bring her back," Ben said. "Our thing pretty much has been outreach to the community and education. I mean, if one thing with her death if it could be used for good, if it could just stop one person from getting behind the wheel and impacting somebody else's life like this,I think that's what she'd want.
“We’re going to relive it our whole life, every Christmas, every holiday, her birthday, the kids' birthdays, I mean every day we relive it," he added. "And definitely we will the rest of our lives."
Crystal and Ben want to educate and protect the community, and encourage people to do what they say Maddie always did: take a taxi, an Uber or Lyft, or otherwise find a designated driver if you've been drinking.
They also want to extend gratitude to the organization Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), the prosecutor's office and the community for their outpouring of support.