After slipping through the cracks for more than a decade, Army Staff Sgt. Randall Hughes has been prosecuted for a slate of sexual crimes including multiple counts of rape and sexual assault, including the 2020 rape of his own daughter.
While Hughes will spend the next 13 years in prison and receive a dishonorable discharge, it wasn’t until Hughes’ own daughter reported him for drugging and raping her in a March 25, 2020, incident that the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division began to fully investigate the multiple instances logged in Hughes’ personnel record.
The first allegations of rape against Hughes date back to 2006, although the incident was not reported at the time, and the plea deal resulted in that charge being dropped. According to Army investigators, Hughes, while stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, raped his then-wife.
In 2017, the incident that would eventually mar his record — though still not result in prosecution — took place following a Super Bowl party at a subordinate’s house near Fort Bliss, Texas.
According to reporting by Kyle Rempfer in the Army Times, Hughes raped Leah Ramirez, the wife of a soldier in Hughes’ charge, after deliberately getting her husband so drunk he passed out. After Ramirez put her husband to bed, and the party had ended, Ramirez found herself alone with Hughes, at which point he propositioned her for sex. After she declined his advances, Hughes grabbed her by the hair and raped her inside her own house.
“I waited until the morning and then I went to the hospital to get checked,” recalled Ramirez — who agreed to be named by the Army Times to encourage any other victims to come forward. “It took CID 48 hours to get into my house for evidence, so I lived in the crime scene for 48 hours.”
The Army’s Criminal Investigative Division launched an investigation into the incident. However, it took a year before CID deemed the allegations credible. But instead of being prosecuted, Hughes received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, or GOMOR, in his personnel file. Meanwhile, Hughes’ actions remained unchecked while the allegations were not public.
“I was told CID had enough evidence to believe it happened, and Fort Bliss still didn’t do anything,” Ramirez told the Army Times. “They just told me the command said this is what it was — this is how it is.”
While CID was investigating the allegations of rape brought forward by Ramirez, Hughes committed another rape at Fort Bliss. In the summer of 2017, Hughes admitted as part of his plea agreement, he violently raped his then-girlfriend on the base. However, he avoided being charged for telling his then-girlfriend not to speak to CID, and for intentionally cutting the woman with a broken bottle.
Later in 2017, while he was still at Fort Bliss, the Army allowed Hughes to take custody of his then 14-year-old daughter. According to her mother, Chayla Madsen, Hughes had not been involved in the girl’s life, and she was not aware of the rape allegations swirling in the background. The teenager too would eventually be a victim of Hughes.
“I never had any idea something like this [investigation] was open, and obviously he did this to look like an upstanding single dad,” Madsen told the Army Times. “I didn’t know he was being investigated … and Fort Bliss just allowed him to move a child — she was 14 — in with him and move on base.”
Hughes then transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey. It wasn’t long before he was once again accused of rape. On March 25, 2020, Hughes allegedly gave his daughter sleeping medication and raped her. Hughes’ plea agreement did not admit to that charge, but he did admit to sexual abuse and assault of a child.
“He was taking a plea deal, so he wanted to plead to get the minimum amount of years,” said Lesley Madsen, the now 17-year-old daughter who asked, with her mother’s approval, to be named in the Army Times article. “If I said no, then it would have been years of court. … It was the easiest way to give everyone that closure and just put him away before he did anything to anybody else.”
A bit of silver lining was that now Fort Dix CID agents were able to see the GOMOR in Hughes’ file, and in 2020 they began looking into Hughes.
“I got really lucky and I had a team [of CID agents] who cared a lot … because they found everybody else and they started adding it all up,” Lesley Madsen said. “It was just insane, because none of us even expected the extent of what he did.”
That CID inquiry ultimately resulted in criminal charges spanning more than a decade and involving five victims. A plea agreement whittled the charges down to the most recent incidents, including sexual abuse and assault of a child, as well as both 2017 rapes.
“Despite the persistent myth that suspected military sex offenders are prosecuted at a high rate, the reality is the chain of command rarely ever sends a suspect to court,” said former chief prosecutor of the Air Force Col. Don Christensen, who testified before Congress last month on the issue of sexual assault in the armed forces. “Right now, I’d say the military is uniquely bad at evaluating the strength of an allegation. In the vast majority of cases, leadership decides to do nothing.”
According to Christensen, service members who are suspects in cases of alleged sexual misconduct are charged in 49% of the cases, with roughly a third of those cases never making it to court. Instead, commanders often hand down nonjudicial punishments and other administrative actions.
“[The command] should be horrified their failure to hold the rapist accountable enabled a sex offender to perpetrate a crime wave against multiple victims,” said Christensen, who was not part of the case against Hughes, after looking at the trial results.