CHICAGO (CBS) — A twice-convicted cop killer was released on Monday, after spending more than three decades behind bars.
Zolo Azania had been locked up since 1981, but after the Indiana Supreme Court twice overturned his death penalty, he ended up being sentenced to 74 years in prison. Prison officials said he was released from custody on Monday morning, after serving 35 years behind bars, and receiving credit for good behavior.
Azania was known as Rufus Averhart in 1981, when he was convicted of killing a Gary police officer while fleeing a bank robbery.
He and two other men robbed the Gary National Bank on Aug. 11, 1981, and as they were leaving the bank, they shot at Gary Police Lt. George Yaros.
Prosecutors and witnesses said Azania stopped and fired another shot into Yaros’ chest as he lay on the ground.
“I just say he’s a coward,” the late officer’s son, Tim Yaros, says.
Although Azania has admitted being an accomplice, he said he was not the one who shot Yaros, a World War II veteran who was nearing retirement when he was gunned down.
Yaros’ son said he misses his father every day, and he can’t stop thinking about what his children and their children missed.
“I think that hurts more than anything; my sons, my daughter, and my grandkids never got to see him,” Tim Yaros said. “He was my best friend. I can’t say it any clearer than that.”
The Yaros family said they don’t buy Azania’s claim that he’s a changed man, pointing out that he killed another man in a botched robbery in 1972.
“There’s just no doubt in my mind that he is the person who committed this crime,” said daughter-in-law Lavonne Yaros. “I don’t hate him for what’s happened. I mean, I hate him because of what we’ve lost.”
Azania pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of 69-year-old Leonard Wick, after he and an accomplice broke into Wick’s home, and Azania shot Wick in a struggle.
“Now he’s getting a third chance,” Tim said. “I don’t think he deserves any chance whatsoever.”
In his view, Azania should have been executed for his crime.
Tim and Lavonne Yaros went to the cemetery on Monday to pray at the officer’s gravesite. They were joined by members of the Gary Police Department.
Azania’s attorney did not return calls seeking comment. Azania has set up a gofundme page to help pay for his life outside of prison.