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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ind. Courts - "High court hears arguments in lengthy death penalty case "

Mike Smith of the AP writes today:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Prosecutors should be prohibited from again seeking the death penalty against a man convicted of killing a Gary police officer in 1981 because the passage of time would hinder his defense, an attorney told the Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Two previous death sentences against Zolo Agona Azania were overturned, and his attorney, Michael Deutsch, noted that several witnesses who could provide mitigating evidence are dead and some physical evidence is now missing.

The state asked the court to overturn a judge's ruling that bars prosecutors from seeking the death sentence again, saying it would set bad precedent and that there is testimony from court transcripts and depositions the defense could use in a third penalty phase.

Allen County juries sentenced Azania, formerly known as Rufus Averhart, to death twice for killing Gary police Lt. George Yaros during a bank robbery. The state Supreme Court overturned the sentences but upheld the conviction.

Since the most recent reversal, Azania's attorneys have claimed that delays by prosecutors have violated Azania's due process rights.

Boone Circuit Court Judge Steve David agreed, saying in a May 2005 ruling that Azania might have difficulty defending himself because some witnesses have died.

Azania has been in prison for the crime for about 25 years, and the maximum penalty for murder at the time of his original sentence was 60 years or death if certain aggravating factors existed. Killing a police officer in the line of duty is one of those factors. * * *

Justice Frank Sullivan suggested that a due process limit might be needed to determine how many times the state has to get it right in a death penalty case.

The case is State v. Zolo Azania; you can watch the oral argument here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 27, 2006 07:31 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions