Man Who Killed Gary Cop Averts Death Penalty for Third Time
BY KEITH BENMAN, NWI Times Staff Writer
[17 Oct 2008]

On Friday, Tim Yaros made the hardest decision of his life.  It was a decision that could keep his father's killer behind bars for the rest of his life.

"He hid behind the judicial system all these years," Yaros, 54, said Friday night. "He hid behind guns. He never gave my dad a fair shot."

Twice sentenced to death before, Zolo Agona Azania, 53, formerly known as Rufus Averhart, was to face his third death penalty sentencing trial beginning Monday in Fort Wayne. Twice before, in two separate decades, his death sentences had been overturned.

Azania shot Gary police Lt. George Yaros three times outside Gary National Bank at 37th Avenue and Broadway in 1981. The third shot came after he had taken Yaros' gun away.

Azania changed his name in prison and, for a time, became a cause celebre to death penalty opponents. He has his own Web site in three languages where he is billed as an "artist" on "Death Row U.S.A."

Tim Yaros' oldest son was born five weeks after Lt. Yaros, his grandfather, was slain. He and his two siblings never knew him.

On Friday, Tim Yaros was given the choice of having prosecutors again seek the death penalty or a 74-year sentence. If they failed to secure the death penalty, Azania would have been eligible for parole in three years under sentencing in force in 1982.

"My mom always wanted to see closure and that weighed heavily in my decision," Yaros said from his Valparaiso home in an emotional voice Friday night.  His mother is now 83 and struggling with health problems, but now she knows her husband's killer will never get out of jail.

Yaros hopes Azania has to serve out the entire 74-year sentence. But under Indiana law, Azania could be paroled in as little as 10 years from now.  Yaros said that is what made the decision particularly difficult.

Yaros said he talked with several Gary police officers and they backed his decision. Most all who worked with his father are now retired. An eyewitness to the shooting is long dead.  Only three of seven pallbearers at his father's funeral are still alive, Yaros said.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said the decision to offer a plea agreement to Azania was based in part on the passage of time, which resulted in many witnesses being unavailable.  "The agreed sentence of 74 years in no way diminishes the sacrifice made by Lt. Yaros to protect the citizens of Gary and Lake County," Carter said.


Plea deal in cop killing gives family closure
By Lori Caldwell Post-Tribune staff writer
[18 October 2008]

The man who shot and killed Gary police Lt. George Yaros 27 years ago agreed to a deal Friday to avoid execution, but he'll remain incarcerated for at least 10 more years.

Rufus Averhart, 53, also known as Zolo Agona Azania, was facing a death penalty trial Monday in Fort Wayne.

With many witnesses dead or elderly and a zealous defense team ready to argue that Averhart didn't deserve to die for his role in the 1981 bank robbery slaying, Lake County prosecutors feared an Allen County jury might not issue a death verdict.

In that case, Averhart would be released from prison in three years.

"I have mixed emotions about this," Yaros' son, Tim, said Friday afternoon. "My mom wants closure. Now she can say she saw justice for the man who killed her husband."

Tim worried that Gary officers would be disappointed in the family's decision.

"Averhart should have been dead 20 years ago," one officer said.  "The justice system failed George Yaros," another said.

Averhart was never formally charged with bank robbery, but agreed Friday to plead guilty and will receive a 14-year sentence, which will be added to the three years remaining on the murder charge.

Yaros, weeks from retirement, was first to respond to a robbery at the former Gary National Bank on Broadway in Glen Park.

Averhart was on parole after serving eight years for killing an elderly man in a home invasion in 1972. He had been out of prison for a year when he wounded Yaros, then stood over him and fired again, witnesses said.

One of the arresting officers, Patrolman Ronald Flournoy, died in 2005. A witness who saw Averhart fleeing the bank died recently as well.

Tim Yaros and his family had planned to attend the upcoming two-week trial. The officer's widow, Ann, was set to be a witness on Oct. 27, the first day of testimony.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said the judge who would have presided over the trial agreed to the plea deal Friday.

"This provides closure for the family and for everyone involved," Carter said.

Tim Yaros, of Valparaiso, said he is grateful for support from prosecutors, Gary police officers and his father's friends who stayed in contact as the legal proceedings continued.

Averhart was convicted in 1992, but 11 years later his death sentence was overturned. After a second death sentence ruling, Averhart won another appeal after convincing the Indiana Supreme Court the jury pool was biased against him.

A later ruling determined he should not be executed because too much time had passed since the crime.

In early 2007, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to another death penalty trial.

"Until my father was killed, I didn't really understand what a police officer does. Every day he's putting his life on the line, whether he's in patrol or working in narcotics. People take that for granted," Tim Yaros said.


No death penalty in Gary officer's shooting
Man agrees to plea deal for prison time.
From The Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel A P
[18 Oct 2008]

INDIANAPOLIS — A man convicted of killing a Gary police officer in 1981 will not face the death penalty a third time.

Zolo Agona Azania, 53, agreed to a deal with prosecutors Friday to avoid execution. Azania’s third death penalty trial had been scheduled to begin Monday in Fort Wayne, where his previous two trials were held because of pretrial publicity in northwestern Indiana.

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.

Prosecutors said they agreed to the deal because many witnesses had died or were no longer available due to the passage of time.  "It was a difficult decision to agree to less than a death penalty in this case," said Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter.  Carter said the judge who would have presided over the trial agreed to the plea deal Friday.  "This provides closure for the family and for everyone involved," Carter said.

Azania would remain in prison for at least 10 more years under the agreement. With time already served, he would have faced three more years in prison under a 74-year-sentence on the murder charge. But he also agreed to plead guilty to bank robbery and receive a 14-year sentence. In Indiana, inmates generally are released after serving about half of their formal sentence.

"I have mixed emotions about this," said Yaros’ son, Tim Yaros of Valparaiso. "My mom wants closure. Now she can say she saw justice for the man who killed her husband."

The Azania case has dragged on for more than two decades after the sentencing phases of his trial were marred with controversy. His first death sentence in 1982 was overturned because of ineffective defense attorneys. The second, in 1996, was disallowed after officials discovered a computer glitch that limited the number of blacks eligible for jury service in Allen County. Azania is black.


Death penalty out in 1981 slaying
Rebecca S. Green
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
[18 Oct 2008]

After years of wrangling over whether he would be executed for the 1981 murder of a Gary police officer and days before a jury would again consider his fate, prosecutors Friday dropped the death penalty against Zolo Agona Azania.

Beginning Monday, an Allen County jury and a Marion County judge were to hear Lake County prosecutors present evidence as to why Azania, 54, should be put to death for killing Gary Police Lt. George Yaros in a botched bank robbery, a crime for which he was first convicted in 1982. The case moved to Allen County long ago because of pretrial publicity in Gary.

While Azania’s convictions for murder and robbery have been upheld, his death sentence has been overturned twice – first because of ineffective assistance of counsel and a discovery violation by prosecutors and a second time because an Allen County computer glitch excluded many potential black jurors.  In 2005, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled prosecutors could again try for the death penalty in the case.

Allen Superior Court officials were planning for a lengthy trial-type process in which a jury would decide whether Azania should be executed.  But on Friday, in Marion Superior Court before Judge Robert Altice Jr., Azania signed a stipulated sentencing agreement that calls for a 60-year prison sentence on the murder and a 14-year sentence on the robbery charge to be served consecutively for a total of 74 years. Prosecutors withdrew their requests to seek the death penalty, according to court documents.  As part of the agreement, Azania waived his right to appeal his convictions and sentence, according to court documents.

"It was a difficult decision to agree to less than a death penalty in this case," Lake County Prosecutor Bernard A. Carter said. "That decision was based in part on the passage of time, which resulted in a great number of unavailable witnesses, many of whom are now deceased. The agreed sentence of 74 years in no way diminishes the sacrifice made by Lt. Yaros to protect the citizens of the city of Gary and Lake County."


Gary cop's killer reaches plea deal
2 death sentences in '81 slaying rejected; pact is for 74-year term
By Kevin O'Neal, Indianapolis Star
[18 Oct 2008]

A man who killed a Gary police officer has accepted a plea agreement in Indianapolis that will ensure he avoids the death penalty.

After two death sentences reached in Allen County were rejected by the Indiana Supreme Court, the case of Zolo Agona Azania ended in a Marion County courtroom, where he accepted a plea agreement for 74 years in prison. The request for a death sentence from the Lake County prosecutor was dropped.

The brief hearing Friday ended one of the longest-running murder and death penalty cases in the state. It dates back to 1981, when Gary police Lt. George Yaros was killed during a bank robbery. Azania was 33 years old and known as Rufus Lee Averhart at the time of the robbery and murder.

He has spent more time on Death Row at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City than any other current inmate, according to Doug Garrison, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction.

The 26 years Azania, now 53, already has served in prison since his initial conviction for murder and robbery will factor into determining how much time he has left to serve. The 74-year sentence he received Friday will be reduced by that amount, and further reductions are possible that could include good-time credit to be determined by the Indiana Department of Correction.

The plea agreement in the Lake County case was heard in an Indianapolis courtroom after the trial was moved to Fort Wayne because of publicity. Marion County Court Judge Robert Altice was chosen to re-hear the sentence.  Altice was named as the judge because the original special judge, Steve David of Boone County, is serving on active duty with the military. Other Allen County judges have disqualified themselves, delaying Azania's case for several years.

Twice, death sentences for Azania, who is black, were overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court. In 1993, the court decided he had ineffective counsel, and in 1996, the ruling was that the computerized jury selection system in Allen County kept black jurors from hearing the case. The Supreme Court has never overturned the murder conviction.

Hastings wrote 10/18/2008 11:28 AM CDT on

There is no "racially fair" jury in America that will convict or execute a black person for murdering a non-black person....especially a white cop.

Yaros was murdered by a man who will soon be free, a man who has spent the last thiry years in prison being worshipped like a folk hero in prison by other racist black inmates because he (got away with) murdering a "pig".

Young Trooper Patrick was also recently denied justice for similar circumstances. Patrick was murdered because he stopped to help a stranded a murderous thug who now also enjoys a life of respect and reverence in the "ghetto gangsta" culture embraced by the thug worship crowd.

But what should one expect. Those jururs are just "keepin' it real."

 Davis wrote on Oct 21, 2008 8:33 PM:

" Unfortunately this murder will be eligable for parole.  23 or 53 it doesn't matter, he kills people and should be in jail forever. Failed justice, failed system... "

Heather wrote on Oct 19, 2008 7:10 PM:

"I can remember the day that my parents had to tell me that my grandfather, George Yaros was dead.  I was 6 1/2 years old, the same age as my son today.  I remember thinking that he wouldn't be able to see me in the dress he and my grandmother had bought for my 1st grade pictures, or take me "bumming."

All I can say is that our family has suffered immeasurably from the loss of George Yaros and the ensuing decades of failed justice.  For what good it may do, remember this story on Election Day."

S wrote on Oct 18, 2008 10:41 PM:

"You can protect them from killing again without putting them to death.  It's called life in prison without parole.  The United States is the only modern industrialized country that still uses the death penalty.  Says a lot about us, huh?"

 steve wrote on Oct 18, 2008 7:15 PM:

"S you are wrong!  It is not about revenge it is about protecting people from ever giving the animals a chance to kill again.  Remember, this guy already killed someone in the 70's.  He was released and killed again.  If he was put to death after he killed his first victim the officer would still be alive and his children would have a father."

pockc wrote:

I cannot believe what I read sometimes. The jury pool was biased; TOO MUCH TIME PASSED SINCE THE CRIME.  That's a good one.  What's next?  Absolutely typical.  Typical example of one who exploits the appeals process.  AND he was already on parole for killing one person.  I suppose that jury was biased too.  Good ole Rufus gets to enjoy life for another 10 years under the blanket of tax dollars and the American flag which he never did a thing to deserve!  Again, TYPICAL!!

Repulsive wrote on Oct 18, 2008 6:08 AM:

" I cannot believe this stupid state!  The criminal justice system is exactly what it says, justice for criminals.  Azania could potentially be walking the streets as a 'free' parolee in 10 years for robbing a bank, shooting and killing a police officer!  Azania should've been put to death; end of story.  Instead, this smooth system called justice finds every reason not to put someone to death.  Our world has become more lax and the belt isn't getting any tighter.  We are spending plenty of money to feed and shelter killers.  No matter who you are or what you do, think what you would want done if it were your family member, relative or friend.  Shame on this state and the justice system in it. "

Bill of Fruitland Park, FL Wrote:

Just remember that this is the same person who has been claiming that he was innocent or framed for 27 years.!!!!!  Oh yes don't forget he also had a previous murder conviction.  He and his lawyers and supporters ignore that also.




In my humble opinion, it should be an automatic death penalty for killing a police officer, under any circumstances.  Automatic.  It also shouldn't take 20 years or more to do it.  And yes, I am a "cop lover"...literally and figuratively.  I'm married to one and my younger brother is also an officer.
10/18/2008 8:13:26 AM

Mr. Lucas wrote:

If justice had been served, Azania would have been executed 25 years ago.
10/18/2008 8:38:12 AM

Melody Ranch wrote:

This piece of trash should have been taken out 20 years ago, instead the tax payers are footing the bill for him to get an education (which he'll never use), watch cable TV and use the gym equipment to buff up.  If they allow this demon to live, send him to Sheriff Joe in Arizona.......  Even a tent is too good for this cop killing coward!
10/18/2008 9:13:06 AM

E. Gephart wrote:

Replying to MelodyRanch:

This piece of trash should have been taken out 20 years ago, instead the tax payers are footing the bill for him to get an education (which he'll never use), watch cable TV and use the gym equipment to buff up.  If they allow this demon to live, send him to Sheriff Joe in Arizona.......  Even a tent is too good for this cop killing coward!

I agree.  Any cop killer does not deserve to live.  And to last this long shows our court system is even more messed up.
10/18/2008 9:16:49 A NWI Member wrote:

Bobby Raines wrote on 10/18/2008, at 5:53:42 PM

If he were were white he would have been ececuted 25 years ago, but again the system has let us down.  What is more jail time going to prove?  Our cops put there life on the line everyday.  What about the police officer's families, don't they deserve some satisfaction?  Rid our country of this kind of scum.  An eye for an eye.  Now we the taxpayers have to pay fo this piece of s@@t to lift weights and get a bull s@@t GED so can maybe write his name.

10/18/2008 4:20:07 PM Millrat wrote:

This ruling is an injustice to police officers and to all of us.  The Death penalty was not enforced, Averhart will sadly get released, and familes are ruined forever.  Our officers deserve better...  Lt. Yaros certainly deserved better in the justice system he faithfully served ... too bad it did not serve him.

Rufus Averhart had already served 8 years for the "involuntary manslaughter" of a 69 year old in his home when he was 18.  Rreleased after 8 years for good behavior, he was praised as a model of rehabilitation.  Yet within a year, he and accomplices robbed a bank, and as Officer Yaros responded, Averhart executed him as he lay wounded.

There is so much more to this,and Yaros family has been living with this. For the whole story, visit this site.


Plea Can Finally Bring Truth, Closure
By Mark Kiesling, NWI
[22 Oct 2008]

It was the end of the road last week for "political prisoner" Zolo Agona Azania, the cop killer who was once known by the much more prosaic name of Rufus Averhart.  After years of protesting his innocence and "Free Zolo!" campaigns by like-minded softheads, last Friday Mr. Averhart came clean.  He did it.  He murdered Lt. George Yaros of the Gary Police Department on Aug. 11, 1981, during a bank robbery in which he shot and killed the wounded policeman as he lay on the ground.

Just to give you an idea of how much wool this guy has pulled over the eyes of well-meaning but intellectually challenged individuals, here is a sample of the drivel put out either by Averhart or on his behalf:

He is a "militant voice for liberation" who was arrested because he is an "anti-colonial combatant" who was "falsely and sensationally accused" and "denied the right to speak on his own behalf" and convicted amid "media and law enforcement hysteria."

Because Yaros was killed while defending the former Gary National Bank, I suppose his murder was an attack on the capitalist system that kept Averhart down, and that Yaros deserved what he got as a capitalist stooge.

By the way, even though Averhart changed his name, nothing requires me to recognize his bogus new one.  He lived as Averhart, and as far as I'm concerned he can die as Averhart.

But he won't die from the death penalty, to which he was sentenced twice and which was twice overturned.  A decision by Yaros' family to accept a guilty plea and a term of 74 years was made last week, even as the state was preparing a third death penalty prosecution.  But George's son Tim knew if the death penalty was rejected, Averhart would be eligible for release in three years.  Averhart is now eligible for release in 10 more years.

But courts have long memories when it comes to cop killers, and even though Averhart is now still only 53, Yaros hopes he will not be out at 63, but when he is called into eternity.

I'd have had even slightly more respect for Averhart's position but for two things:

One is the way he killed Yaros.  When the good guys and bad guys are exchanging gunfire, the playing field is at least level.  When you stand over a wounded man and shoot him, you have the moral authority of a Gestapo executioner.  The second is his constant, years-long denial of guilt and demand to be the victim, a position he admitted last week is false.

Game over, Mr. Averhart. You lose.

- The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 933-4170.


I've been watching wrote on Oct 22, 2008 7:35 PM:

"'How many issues has this case/incident touched? I knew Lt. George Yaros when I was 11 years old. He bought me a great big pint of ice cream. I'll bet he was that kind of father. I'll bet he was that kind of grandfather. I knew he was that good of friend to my father. This guy stared death in the face during WWII. The fact that he was brought down by a previously convicted killer is no coincidence. Averhart killed an elderly couple when he was a juvenile in a home invasion/robbery. So how far have we come?

TAX PAYERS wrote on Oct 22, 2008 9:01 AM:

"Think we'll see any comments from supporters of Averhart saying how sorry they were that they were duped?"



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