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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Advocates for Indiana inmates to call for clemency

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A group that advocates for Indiana inmates will host an event July 25 to advocate for clemency for a man convicted of murder in 1999 and to bring together other families seeking clemency for loved ones.

The event, 1:45-3 p.m. at Tarkington Park, will feature speakers, poetry and food from Black Leaf Vegan.

Though the event is meant to spotlight anyone seeking clemency, 45-year-old Leon Benson will be the focus. Benson was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the death of Kasey Schoen in 1998. He was also convicted for carrying a handgun without a license. His earliest possible release date from Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton is in 2029.

Benson and his family have maintained his innocence. He filed for clemency in April but hasn’t received a hearing yet. The clemency process involves a five-member state parole board, which conducts hearings and then makes a recommendation to the governor. Only the governor can grant clemency.

Nick Greven, a coordinator with Indiana Department of Corrections Watch (IDOC Watch), which is one of the hosts for the event, said the demonstration is intended to draw attention not only to specific cases — including Benson and others — but also the general issue of clemency.

Clemency refers to reducing or altering a sentence for a criminal conviction, though it doesn’t affect the conviction. It can be a slow and burdensome process. The parole board announces its clemency agenda in advance, usually listing two cases for each month. (Benson is not listed on future agendas, which have been announced through September.)

“It is extremely difficult and can be very traumatizing,” Greven said of the effect on families, “and can result in all kinds of psychological stress.”

Regardless of guilt when it comes to specific cases, IDOC Watch has called for clemency for inmates who say they’ve been rehabilitated or who are elderly.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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