Indiana Death Row Prisoner

Struggles Against Unfair Death Sentence

Michigan City, IN - A specially appointed judge ruled on May 1, 2005 that the State of Indiana could not seek a third death penalty against Zolo Agona Azania, who previously had two death sentences overturned on appeal, because of "fundamental principles of fairness, due process, and speedy justice." Despite no longer being under a death penalty, Zolo Azania is still on death row while Indiana prosecutors appeal the judge’s order. If the judge’s order barring the death penalty is upheld, Zolo could be released from prison in five years.

An all-white jury convicted Zolo, who is Black, in February 1982, for the 1981 murder of a white, Gary, Indiana, police officer in the course of a bank robbery. Zolo did not receive a fair trial, and has always maintained his non-involvement in the crime. On May 25, 1982, he became the first person in Allen County to be sentenced to death since 1959.

In 1993 the Indiana Supreme Court vacated Zolo’s death sentence - while failing to overturn his conviction - holding that the state had withheld favorable evidence (results of a gunshot residue test termed "inconclusive" as to whether Zolo had fired a gun). The court also found that Zolo’s trial counsel had provided ineffective assistance (he was so intimidated by the police-state atmosphere surrounding the trial that he didn’t sit at the same table as Zolo; he failed to interview defense witnesses; he put on no evidence during the trial or the death penalty phase). After a second sentencing trial in 1996, a jury composed of 11 whites and no Blacks resentenced Zolo to death.

In 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court vacated Zolo’s second sentence of death, finding that Black people had been systematically excluded from the pool from which the jury had been chosen. In fact, half of Allen County’s Black population had been eliminated from the jury pool for the previous 15 years.

All three Allen County Superior Court judges have been forced to recuse themselves from Zolo’s case. Two were disqualified for blatant conflicts of interest and the other left the bench to enter an alcohol rehabilitation center. In 2004, Boone County Circuit Court Judge Steven H. David was specially appointed to oversee the case. Ruling on a motion filed by Zolo’s defense counsel, Michael Deutsch, of the People’s Law Office, in Chicago, Judge David held that Zolo’s constitutional rights to due process and a speedy trial have been violated, and prejudice would result if the death penalty was pursued after a 23 year post conviction delay in sentencing. The judge found that the State was largely responsible for the delay. Nevertheless, the Lake County, Indiana prosecutor has filed an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the order which bars him from pursuing a third death sentence. Meanwhile, people around the world continue to oppose a new death penalty for Zolo.

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