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Federal Judge, Drake Law Alumnus, To Reflect Upon Presiding Over High-profile Death Penalty Cases in Iowa

February 23, 2006

CONTACT: Mark Kende, (515) 271-3354, mark.kende@drake.edu;
Daniel P. Finney, (515) 271-2833, daniel.finney@drake.edu


Mark W. Bennett, a U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of Iowa, will reflect upon his presiding over two high-profile death penalty cases in Iowa last year in a lecture set for 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 1, at Cartwright Hall, 2621 Carpenter Ave., on the campus of Drake University. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Bennett, a 1975 Drake Law School alumnus, was on the bench for a pair of drug trafficking related murder trials held in Sioux City, Iowa, late in 2005. In the cases, Dustin Honken and his girlfriend, Angela Johnson, were each sentenced to death by juries in separate trials for the murders of three adults and two children.

Bennett imposed the first death sentences issued in Iowa since 1963. Iowa is one of 12 states that do not have the death penalty but because the case was tried in federal court, the ultimate penalty was in play.

Bennett was appointed to his federal judgeship in 1994 and became chief judge in 2000.

After his graduation from Drake, Bennett started his own law firm in Des Moines, which eventually became Babich, Bennett & Nickerson. Over the course of more than 16 years, his extensive practice in employment discrimination, constitutional law and other civil rights litigation took him to numerous state and federal trial and appellate courts throughout the United States, resulting in more than 50 reported decisions, including arguing before the United State Supreme Court in 1979.

Prior to his appointment to the federal bench, Bennett served as the first chair of the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990 Advisory Group for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, as a member of the board of governors of the Association of Trial Lawyers of Iowa and as a fellow in the Iowa Academy of Trial Lawyers. He was also active as a leader in the Iowa State Bar Association.

Bennett has spoken at more than 210 seminars throughout the United States on topics such as federal litigation, civil rights, employment law, professionalism and courtroom technology. He has taught at Drake Law School, the University of Iowa Law School, and the U.S. Department of Justice National Advocacy Center.