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Since 1981, for more than 25 years, he has been imprisoned by the state of Indiana. He is recognized by the Jericho Movement and others as a political prisoner. Zolo did not receive a fair trial and has always maintained his total innocence of any involvement in the crime for which he is imprisoned.
Zolo is a prolific writer and an accomplished artist whose work has been exhibited in many places around the country. His writing and his art reflect who he is: A man who lives his political convictions. At the time of his arrest for the shooting death of a policeman, Zolo was a well known activist in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. He was an ex-con who had grown up in extreme poverty, but he was also the valedictorian of his CETA federal job training class and had received a scholarship to Purdue University just prior to his arrest. He was involved in the campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday and had designed a button used by campaigners in Gary. He also declared himself a conscious citizen of the Republic of New Afrika and was involved in the struggle for self-determination of African people in America.
Since his arrest Zolo has fought the charges against him from his prison cell, often on death row. His tireless efforts have exposed the unfair and racist way his case has been handled by the authorities. He has defended his own rights and the rights of other prisoners, winning the respect of fellow prisoners and jailers alike. His victories, overturning his death sentence twice, have set precedents cited by other prisoners.
As Indiana Circuit Court Judge Steve David wrote in a May, 2005 decision: "fundamental principles of fairness, due process, and speedy justice" were violated in Zolo's case. Judge David also pointed out that "the State bears most of the responsibility for the delay between the defendant's 1982 conviction and the currently pending penalty proceeding." In 1993, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned Zolo's original death sentence because the prosecution had failed to turned over a gunshot residue test. In 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned Zolo's second death sentence because "the jury pool selection process was fundamentally flawed," including the unconstitutional exclusion of Blacks.
Judge Steve David ruled that prosecutors could no longer seek the death penalty because Zolo's constitutional rights to a speedy trial and due process would be violated. But prosecutors appealed and two years later, the court ruled 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.” The Court then appointed Marion Superior Court Judge Robert Altice as special judge to preside over Zolo's new penalty phase, because Judge Steven David was called to active military duty.
On October 17, 2008, just before his third death penalty trial, the State of Indiana finally abandoned their 27 year campaign to execute Zolo Azania. Zolo no longer faces the death penalty! This is a real victory for all Zolo's supporters and all of those who oppose the death penalty.
It is also a victory for Zolo and his legal team, which included Attorney Jessie A. Cook of Terre Haute and Michael Deutsch, Erica Thompson and John Stainthorpe of the People's Law Office in Chicago.
For 27 years, Zolo has been imprisoned for a crime he adamantly denies committing. At the time that the State of Indiana finally stopped seeking his execution, Zolo had spent more time on death row than any other inmate, according to the Indiana Department of Correction.
Zolo has not plead guilty to these charges. This was not a plea bargain. However, the felony murder conviction for which Zolo was originally sentenced to death still stands, for now. Marion County Court Judge Robert Altice sentenced Zolo based on that 1982 conviction.
As part of an agreement, Judge Altice imposed two sentences instead of the death penalty. He sentenced Zolo to 60 years for the shooting death of a policeman. Zolo should serve 30 years of that sentence and the 27 years he has already served will be deducted from that, leaving 3 more years to serve on that sentence. The shooting happened during a bank robbery and for that robbery, which Zolo also has denied being involved in, he was sentenced to 14 years. Zolo should serve 7 years of that sentence. The 7 years may be reduced by 3 years if Zolo obtains a college degree while in prison. Zolo has been denied the ability to earn a college degree in the past because he had been sentenced to be executed. Before his arrest on these charges in 1981, Zolo had received a scholarship to Purdue University. With good time credit, Zolo hopes to be released from prison in 7 years. Zolo would be 60 years old.
At the hearing in Indianapolis, once the Indiana prosecutors agreed that this was an acceptable resolution of the case, Judge Altice praised the lawyers and then came down off the bench to shake Zolo's hand and wish him good luck.
Under the terms of the agreement, Zolo will be allowed to challenge his 1982 convictions in federal habeas proceedings. Zolo is able to pursue a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting that the 1982 convictions were unconstitutional. He can argue that mistakes of law by the Indiana trial court resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that made this more difficult, Zolo is characteristically undeterred.
Zolo sent the following message:
Media Press Statement by Zolo Azania
i am glad that the State has finally offered me this opportunity to plan a life on the outside. i can use that freedom to work for justice for others, and, of course, to establish a way of sustaining my life on my own.
i feel that God has given me many gifts; and with these gifts then i would be able to take care of myself and do good for others. i have matured in many ways over these stressful 27 plus years. i see things quite differently now than in that early stage of my life.
i still resolutely maintain my innocence. By this agreement the State gives up the death penalty request. My next course of action will be to go on into the federal court system to expose the many injustices. i will continue to contest my innocence in the murder. i am angry over the numerous ways that I’ve been mistreated by the judicial sanction system. i was illegally placed in this untenable position by the Indiana Supreme Court when they took back my dismissal of the case for fast and speedy trial violation, and authorized the prosecution to retry me for the death penalty for the third time! Nonetheless, i will continue to contest my innocence in this murder. i am angry over the numerous ways i’ve been mistreated by the system that some call justice–a term of relativity. Therefore, the protracted struggle continues!
Write to Zolo at:
Zolo Azania #4969, Indiana State Prison, 1 Park Row, Michigan City, IN 46360
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