Suspect awaiting charges in attack on Madison student

Man identified with the help of security video provided by public

Police lights flash
Lights on a parked police vehicle flash at a crime scene in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke/AP Photo

A 26-year-old man was arrested early Wednesday for the violent assault of a University of Wisconsin-Madison student.

Madison Police identified Brandon A. Thompson as their suspect in what they described as a random attack early Sunday that left the woman in her 20s in critical condition. Police said Thompson, a Madison resident, is being held at the Dane County Jail.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Shon Barnes said Thompson is expected to be charged with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree reckless injury and strangulation, all felonies.

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Barnes said investigators were able to identify him with the help of security video and witness statements. The police chief said that the night of the attack, someone heard a commotion and found a man now identified as Thompson near the victim.

“Our investigation revealed that Thompson was at the scene of the crime as evidenced by a witness during our initial canvas,” Barnes said. “Thompson told this witness that he had, quote, just found our survivor, pretending to be an innocent bystander.”

Barnes said Thompson fled before police arrived.

The victim, a female student in her 20s, was found critically injured near the 300 block of West Wilson Street in downtown Madison at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Although police initially described her injuries as life-threatening, they said this week she is expected to survive.

Barnes said there was no connection between Thompson and the woman, and that the attack appeared to be completely random. “I think that is one of the most frightening things about it,” he said.

Paige Valenta, Madison Police assistant chief of investigative services, said security video evidence given to the police by members of the public proved key to the investigation.

“In fact, video that we received from the community proved to be a linchpin in the investigation,” Valenta said. “As a result of this video, detectives were able to read a license plate that directly led to the identification of Brandon Thompson as the perpetrator of this assault.”

Thompson was seen in another video following the victim on foot before the attack.

Earlier on the night of the attack, Fitchburg Police stopped Thompson for a vehicle registration violation. Body camera footage and vehicle information from that stop also helped in identifying him, Barnes said.

At the press conference, Barnes, Valenta and others spoke out in support of the woman who was assaulted.

“It is also important to take a moment to remember the survivor of this brutal attack. Her life is forever changed. Her family’s life is forever changed. We will continue to work hard to ensure Mr. Thompson is held fully accountable in a court of law for the heinous act that he perpetrated,” Valenta said.

The attack left students unsettled as they were returning to the city for their first week of classes. University and city police stepped up patrols, while UW officials circulated safety advice, including asking people not to walk alone. Police and city officials praised the community for coming forward with information and video evidence in the case.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Thompson is being represented by the law firm Nicholson Goetz & Otis. His attorneys said Thompson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and attended Oregon High School. Barnes said he was not aware of a criminal history. His attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Editor’s note: Robert D’Andrea contributed to this report.

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