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University of Iowa News Release

March 29, 2006

Bennett Discusses Honken Trial As UI Law's Judge-in-Residence

Judge Mark W. Bennett said he had no idea how much the Dustin Honken and Angela Johnson trials would change his life.

"My daughter went to high school every day protected by two members of the U.S. Marshal service," said Bennett, the U.S. federal district court judge who presided over the Honken and Johnson trials in Sioux City. "For the four months of that trial, no member of my family was ever out of sight of the marshal service."

Bennett's reflections about the trial were part of this year's judge-in-residency at the University of Iowa College of Law, a two-day program of discussing legal careers and legal issues with law students and faculty members that concludes today. Other events Bennett is participating in include faculty and student discussions about the vanishing civil trial, high-tech courtrooms and trials, and federal sentencing guidelines.

His public lecture, delivered before about 100 people Tuesday afternoon, was a reflection on the Honken and Johnson trials. The trials began with Honken's conviction on drug charges in 1996 and ended with Honken and Johnson receiving the death penalty for murdering five people in 1993 in an effort to protect his Mason City-area meth ring from federal investigation. They were the first people to receive the death penalty in Iowa in 40 years and are currently awaiting execution at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Bennett said the case was the most fascinating and work-intensive case he'd ever been involved in while working in the law. During the five years between Honken's and Johnson's capital indictment in 2000 and the imposition of the death penalty in 2005, he wrote 32 opinions on the various motions filed, many of them running hundreds of pages in length.

"It was the best lawyered case I've ever seen," he said. "Both the prosecution and the defense were outstanding."

The trials posed several dilemmas for Bennett, who was a general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union before becoming a judge. Among them were requests by prosecutors to impanel an anonymous jury and to bolt Honken to the courtroom floor. However, despite his initial misgivings, Bennett agreed to take extraordinary security measures during the trials after learning more about the grisly nature of the allegations against Honken, and that he had hatched various escape plots with gang members while in prison.

One other dilemma Bennett faced was his own opposition to the death penalty, but he said he was able to put those concerns aside and give both the prosecution and the defense a fair hearing.

Based in Sioux City, Bennett was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and became chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa in 2000, presiding over the busiest federal trial court in the nation. He has spoken throughout the U.S. on topics such as federal litigation, civil rights, employment law, professionalism, and courtroom technology.

Bennett has taught courses at the UI College of Law, Drake University Law School and the University of Akron law school. He received his law degree from Drake and is co-author of the book, "Employment Relationships Law & Practice."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,