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Friday, May 11, 2007

Ind. Decisions - More on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on death sentence

Patrick Guinane of the NWI Tmes reports today on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the case of State of Indiana v. Zolo Agona Azania. (See earlier ILB entry here.) From today's story:

Prosecutors can try a third time to secure a death sentence against a man convicted of killing Gary police Lt. George Yaros during a 1981 bank robbery, a divided Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The 3-2 decision reverses a ruling by a lower court, which concluded that prolonged sentencing delays violated Zolo Agona Azania's constitutional rights.

Formerly known as Rufus Averhart, Azania, 52, was convicted and sentenced to die in 1982. The state Supreme Court threw out the initial death sentence in 1993, ruling Azania had ineffective counsel at sentencing.

Azania was sentenced to die a second time, but the state Supreme Court found blacks were inadvertently but improperly excluded from the jury pool and vacated the sentence in 2002.

When sentencing began for a third time, an Allen County judge ruled that new death penalty proceedings would violate Azania's right to a speedy trial and due process because evidence supporting his case is no longer available. Azania's lawyers told the court that multiple witnesses are now dead and several pieces of forensic evidence have gone missing.

"While the unavailability of these witnesses and this evidence may make it more difficult for Azania to defend against the state's case, we find that it creates far greater difficulty for the state to meet its burden of proof," Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. wrote in the Supreme Court's majority opinion.

But not all justices were in agreement.

"In simple terms, if the state seeks to kill a human being, it has to get it right. That means it provides a fair trial, albeit not a perfect one, free of reversible error by the trial court," Justice Theodore Boehm wrote in one of two dissenting opinions. "The net result of this exercise is that Azania has spent at least 15 years on death row due to flaws in the criminal justice system for which he bears no responsibility."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 11, 2007 09:23 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions