ILNews

Justices split on decision to allow a third try for death penalty

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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 A split decision by the Indiana Supreme Court today allows the state to seek the death penalty a third time against a man convicted of shooting a Gary police officer in a robbery gone bad in 1981.

The 3-2 decision came late this afternoon with Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker dissenting in separate opinions. Justice Frank Sullivan authorized the majority's 22-page opinion. The ruling in State of Indiana v. Zolo Agona Azania, No. 02S03-0508-PD-364 (http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/05100701fsj.pdf), reverses a trial court decision and orders a new penalty phase.

In 2005, Allen Superior Judge Steve David barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty for a third time because of the lapse of time and ensuing issues that involve speedy trials, due process, and fundamental fairness arguments.

Azania was first convicted in 1982 of murder for a robbery of the Gary National Bank the year before, which resulted in the shooting death of Lt. George Yaros. Azania and two others were trying to flee the bank - they both received 60-year sentences; Azania's penalty hasn't been that clear-cut. The Indiana Supreme Court has twice overturned his death sentence, although the conviction has withstood the test of time.

During arguments in June, this ruling's author, Justice Sullivan, wondered out load if there was some point in time where it's not fair to go through the penalty phase where death is on the line. Challenges presented in this appeal include old evidence, the death of key witnesses on both sides, and how Azania's mitigation witnesses are no longer alive to testify in person.

In his opinion, Justice Sullivan wrote, "We find that neither the delay nor any prejudice that Azania may suffer from it violates his constitutional rights. The State may continue to seek the death penalty."

However, the dissenting justices pointed out how novel these arguments are and that justices on the Supreme Court of the United States have invited state and lower court judges to consider whether the passage of time alone is sufficient to question execution.

"I recognize that the (SCOTUS) has yet to entertain a Lacky claim despite invitations from Justices Stevens and Breyer to do so," Justice Boehm wrote, referring to Lacky v. Texas, 514 U.S. 1045 (1995). "I therefore cannot conclude that such a claim is established under the Federal Constitution. I do, however, find the reasoning ... to be persuasive and therefore would hold that the Indiana Constitution prevents further pursuit of the death penalty in this case."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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