INDIANAPOLIS — A man convicted of a murder in 1998 has become the first person to be exonerated by the Marion County Prosecutor's Office Conviction Integrity Unit.
On March 9, Leon Benson's first degree murder conviction was vacated by a Marion County judge after a joint re-investigation by the University of San Francisco School of Law Racial Justice Clinic (USFCA) and the Conviction Integrity Unit.
“All too often, prosecutors wield their power to cement wrongful convictions and entomb the innocent,” said Professor Lara Bazelon. “We are gratified and relieved that the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office appreciates that nothing is more important than rectifying a past wrong. Leon Benson and his family have been victimized by the system for 25 years. Today, with Leon’s exoneration for a brutal murder he did not commit, they finally got justice.”
At approximately 3:30 a.m. on August 8, 1998, Kasey Schoen was shot five times execution style while seated in his car which was idling at the curb on the 1300 block of North Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.
According to the USFCA, the case against Benson rested on a cross-racial identification made in the near darkness from 150 feet by a frightened white newspaper carrier and the equally questionable identification by a man from the neighborhood with a history of mental illness and who held a grudge against Benson.
“It’s been some turbulent years but at this point right here – you have to celebrate your moments,” Leon Benson told WRTV.
Benson’s family met with WRTV on Friday, just one day after he was released from prison.
"When he came out and he was the man he was over the phone… I love you pops," Koby Bluitt, Benson's daughter said.
Bluitt was two-years old at the time of the murder, though despite having to grow up without him, she said that their relationship never wavered. ‘
“Pops loved us and always wrote us – he never missed a day .. he never missed a day,” Bluitt added.
Benson says he will take this new lease on life and never let another day pass without pass without living it to its fullest.
“You got to control the meaning of your life," Benson concluded
The Marion County Prosecutor's Office provided the following statement after the release of Benson.
"In order to garner the community’s trust in the criminal justice system, it is critical that the integrity of the process is maintained at every point, from the investigation through post-conviction efforts.
This has been a long and difficult process for everyone involved but justice requires that we set aside this conviction.
The challenges presented in this case underline the importance of why the Conviction Integrity Unit was established and why we continue to identify and remedy wrongful convictions and ensure that justice and fairness are upheld."
On March 9, 2023, Leon Benson walked free from the Indiana state prison where he had spent more than half of his life, including eleven years in solitary confinement. Dressed all in white, his arms in the air, Leon strode out to loud cheers from his family, attorneys, and friends who had gathered outside in the cold, windy weather to welcome him home. “Truth never dies,” he declared. “It is only rediscovered.”