Saturday, October 27, 2007

James Benzoni Honored

James Benzoni, a champion of immigrants and the poor, will be honored Oct. 27th for his fight against the death penalty. James Benzoni, a Des Moines lawyer, will be honored at the Iowans Against the Death Penalty's 45th anniversary dinner Oct. 27th for his efforts to keep Iowa free of capital punishment. He once faced murder charges and became a lawyer as a result.

When several lawmakers led a drive to reinstate the death penalty in 1995, Benzoni stood before the Iowa Legislature and told his story: He once faced murder charges and became a lawyer because of it. People didn't soon forget his passion, which has grown as he has become one of the state's top immigration lawyers.

In addition to James Benzoni, the following people will be honored:
• Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, who during eight years as governor fought attempts to reinstate the death penalty.
• David Baldus , a University of Iowa law professor who conducted research on racial disparity in death penalty sentencing cases.
• John Ely , a former state lawmaker who sought to abolish the death penalty in the 1960s and witnessed the last execution by hanging in Iowa in 1963.

Featured speaker: Dennis Fritz, author of "Journey Toward Justice," the story of his wrongful conviction in the 1982 murder and rape of a waitress. He was freed when DNA evidence cleared him in 1999 after serving 11 years in prison. The other defendant convicted and later freed in the murder, Ron Williamson, was the subject of John Grisham's book "The Innocent Man."

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