Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment
Zolo Agona Azania was first sentenced to death under the name of Rufus Averhart in 1982, after his conviction for killing of a Gary police officer who was fatally wounded in an exchange of gunfire with three men who fled from a bank robbery. Zolo wasn't arrested at the bank, but miles away walking down the street unarmed. Although two others were all arrested and charged with the robbery and killing, the prosecution focused the most damaging evidence on Zolo, falsely claiming that he was the one who had fired the fatal shot at the police officer at close range, "execution style".
The prosecution also threatened witnesses to testify against Zolo, two of whom later came forward and testified that they had been intimidated, and suppressed gunshot residue evidence that negated the claim that Zolo had fired a weapon. As a result of the prosecution's efforts to frame the evidence against Zolo, he received the death penalty while his co-defendants, Dennis Hucson and David Nordi, each of whom had close family members who were Gary police officers, were sentenced to 60 years.
At the time of his arrest, Zolo had been active in community and civil rights work in Gary and in the Chicago area. He was involved in the campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, was a budding artist and an outspoken supporter of self-determination for Black people in the United States. He had also received some local news attention because of his successful graduation from a GED program after his release from prison in 1980 for a manslaughter conviction when he was 18 years old, which was subsequently vacated.
In 1993, the Indiana Supreme Court vacated his death sentence, finding that the prosecution had wrongly withheld the gun shot residue evidence and that his defense lawyer, who had submitted no evidence in mitigation at his death sentencing, was incompetent. In 1996, Zolo was again given the death penalty from an Alien County jury (where the venue had been changed to in 1981) and again his defense counsel failed to present any evidence of mitigation concerning his background or accomplishments. In this trial the prosecution changed its theory as to which shot was the fatal one and the evidence showed that the officer was not shot from close range in execution style.
In addition, it was later discovered that the Alien county computerized jury system in 1996 was fatally flawed eliminating almost one-half of the eligible Blacks from the County from any possibility of jury service. Also during that trial the only eyewitness linking Zolo in anyway to the bank robbery, James McGrew, came forward and testified that he lied when he identified Zolo in the 1982 trial and only did so because he felt in danger if he did not make the identification.
In December of 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court, found that the jury system in Alien County was in fact fatally flawed and again vacated Zolo's death sentence. Now 21 years after the incident, Zolo faces the possibility of his third death penalty trial. The first two trials were fatally flawed as a result of the wrongdoing and malfeasance of the state authorities and yet whether or not Zolo again has to fight for his life is left to the sole discretion of the Lake County prosecutor, Bernard Carter.
For over two decades, Zolo has proven himself to be a model prisoner and a productive citizen. Within the prison he has a record of non-violence and is greatly respected by follow prisoners as well as many of the correctional staff. He has also become an accomplished writer and artist. His oil paintings have been exhibited in galleries across the United States and his artwork has also appeared as illustrations in several books written by others. In addition, Zolo has written numerous articles and pamphlets about the politics, social plight and culture of Black people in America. Through his artwork and writings, Zolo has become known by people from different communities, including religious people, cultural workers, African- ' American elected officials and activists and anti-death penalty advocates.
Those who have come to know Zolo over the years can attest to his gentle nature, his profound commitment to social justice and his dedication to equality for all people. It is clear that Zolo's is a life, which under any circumstances, should not be extinguished by the State of Indiana. After 21 years of exemplary conduct, he has proven that he deserves to live.
PO Box 55083 • Indianapolis, IN • 46205-0088 • 817 466 7128 http://icacp.org • firstname.lastname@example.org
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