GARY, Ind. (AP) — A man convicted of killing a Gary police officer in 1981 is about to walk free from an Indiana prison after twice having death sentences overturned.
State prison records show 62-year-old Zolo Agona Azania is scheduled for release this week from the Miami Correctional Facility near Peru.
Allen County juries twice sentenced Azania, formerly known as Rufus Averhart, to death for killing Gary police Lt. George Yaros during a bank robbery but the Indiana Supreme Court overturned both of those sentences. Azania accepted a 74-year-sentence on murder and robbery charges in 2008 and earned good-time credit that shortened his prison stay.
Yaros’ son, Tim Yaros, told The (Northwest Indiana) Times that he regrets agreeing with the decision of prosecutors to drop their bid for a death sentence against Azania.
“This man is going to be out walking the streets, the same streets my dad patrolled for 30 years of his life,” said Yaros, of Valparaiso. “My dad was the backbone of my life. He was the best man in my wedding. … I feel like I let my father down.”
Azania told The Times in an interview last year that he will leave prison a changed man.
“I’ve learned some things I wouldn’t have, if I had not gone through this. I’ve seen people just give up on life. I dealt with the situation as it faced me. I never gave up hope. I try my best to be a positive individual, to have something positive to say. Perhaps I can help someone,” he said.
Two other men, Ralph D. Hutson and David North, were also convicted of murder charges for taking part in the robbery and were each given 60-year prison sentences. They’ve both previously been released.
Authorities said Azania fired the fatal shot at Yaros from close range after the officer collapsed from another wound outside the bank.
Jeffrey Ormiston, who was foreman of the 1982 jury that convicted Azania, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Azania stood out from his accomplices because he walked back to Yaros and shot him.
“It bothers me that people go through the process, the legal system, especially with two juries reaching the same verdict, and yet that means basically nothing,” Ormiston said of Azania’s impending release.
Azania continues to deny killing the officer. He told the Sun-Times last year the real killer is “between two people,” adding that, “I don’t know which bullet was which.”
Yaros’ daughter-in-law, Lavonne Yaros, said she still considers Azania a “cold-hearted murderer.”
“I hope to God he doesn’t hurt anyone again, or use anyone to his benefit, and that he just finds peace within himself,” she told The Times. “It’s a higher form that he is going to have to answer to.”