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January 23, 2004

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, (512) 471.7330
Event Contact: Amanda Tyler, American Constitution Society at UT, 512-789-0209, or

Event: American Constitution Society Presents Death Penalty Forum, Jan. 26

WHAT: ACS Death Penalty Forum
Monday, Jan. 26, 2004, at 3:30 p.m.
UT Law School, Eidman Courtroom
Speakers Abe Bonowitz and Juan Melendez

AUSTIN, Texas — The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) at The University of Texas School of Law will present a death penalty forum on Mon., Jan. 26, at 3:30 p.m. in the Eidman Courtroom. Speaking at the forum will be Abe Bonowitz, a human rights activist, and Juan Melendez, an exonerated former death row inmate.

Bonowitz has been working for more than 15 years to educate the public about human rights problems, particularly the death penalty and the need for alternatives to the death penalty. He came to his position after arguing for the death penalty for almost a year in an attempt to disprove the facts presented by death penalty opponents. Bonowitz gained first-hand knowledge of the issue by working in the death penalty section of the Ohio Public Defender Commission with murder victims' family members and death row family members as well as with death row inmates in several states including Alabama, California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas. He appears briefly in the movie film "Dead Man Walking" and has worked closely on several projects with author and spiritual advisor Helen Prejean, CSJ. Bonowitz is a former board member of Amnesty International USA, a former executive director of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, and the current director of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CUADP).

Juan Roberto Melendez Colon became the 24th person exonerated and released from Florida's death row when he was freed on Jan. 3, 2002, after spending 17 years, eight months and one day facing execution for a crime he did not commit. Melendez was convicted in 1984 at the age of 33 with no physical evidence linking him to the crime and testimony from questionable witnesses. Melendez's conviction fell apart when the confession of the real killer, a police informant, came to light in 1999—a confession that prosecutors knew about before they took Melendez to trial.

The American Constitution Society’s Death Penalty Forum is one of several events in Texas and the Southwest where Bonowitz and Melendez will be speaking.

Founded in 2001, the UT Chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy ( is one of the Law School's newest and fastest growing student organizations. Lynn Blais, the Leroy G. Denman, Jr. Professor in Real Property Law, is the faculty advisor for the student group.

ACS ( is a national organization of law students, law professors, judges, and practicing attorneys who seek to restore the fundamental principles of respect for human dignity, protection of individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to justice to their rightful place in American law. The UT Law chapter of ACS hosts debates, panel discussions, guest speakers, and a brown bag lunch series.