An Ohio man, son of a judge, and U.S. Army veteran was sentenced to spend 15 years to life in prison, plus an additional six years, for repeatedly shooting and killing his wife in May 2021.
Omnisun Azali, 36, was convicted by Cuyahoga County jurors on two counts of murder, and one count of felonious assault, and domestic violence late last week. His trial began in late November of this year.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Mwaka Azali’s sister said during a tearful victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday afternoon. “She loved him very much.”
“Please let justice prevail,” she went on. “Let justice prevail.”
During the proceedings overseen by Judge Patricia Cosgrove, Azali never disputed that he shot and killed his wife in their Euclid, Ohio, home. But, he testified, it was the only option he thought he had at the time – because, he claimed, she shot at him first.
“I never wanted to shoot,” the defendant testified, according to a courtroom report by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I waited until there was nothing else I could do.”
Omnisun Azali, testifying for almost five hours, argued that his wife had already shot at him three times during a tussle between the two on the floor of their house – and that she was prepared to fire her fourth shot – when his military training kicked in.
“Mwaka stop,” the defendant said he shouted as he finally retrieved his .40-caliber pistol from his waistband and killed his wife.
The 911 call for assistance to the residence was made by Omnisun Azali’s mother, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams. She told dispatchers that she believed her son was likely involved in a shooting.
During her own testimony, the judge said she was in her chambers at around 3:30 p.m. on the day in question when her son called and said something happened that necessitated him bringing his children to stay at her home in the village of Bratenahl, Ohio. He said little, Collier-Williams said, because the couple’s two children were in the car with him while he was on the way there. The judge left the courthouse, she told the jury, telling her staff that there was a family emergency.
Her son called her back and said “She shot at me, and I shot back,” Collier-Williams testified, according to the Plain Dealer.
The judge was home for less than 11 minutes before she and her son left in her vehicle, surveillance footage showed.
Mother and child made the somber, roughly 20-minute long, trip back to the scene of the crime, praying for awhile. As she neared the exit for Babbit Road, Collier-Williams dialed 911, she testified.
Prosecutors sought to make hay of the judge’s involvement, asking why she hadn’t dialed for help sooner since, arguing there was a possibility the dying woman was still alive and “bleeding out.”
“It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback,” Collier-Williams said. “I was in severe shock. Nothing like this had ever happened to my family. I was just moving, just moving, and doing what I could.”
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Kevin Mayer, whose office was assigned to be a special prosecutor on the case, also asked the judge if she had attempted to keep the shooting “in-house.”
Collier-Williams asked for a clarification. The prosecutors suggested that she didn’t want police involved.
“How am I going to keep this from the police?” the judge replied. “That’s utterly ridiculous.”
The defense took umbrage at that suggestion.
Defense attorney Jeff Saffold asked a rhetorical question while staring down the prosecutor: “Is there any way you can call police and keep it in-house?”
When investigators arrived on the scene, they found Mwaka Azali’s .380-caliber pistol next to her body. Bullet holes from that gun were present in the house. The victim’s DNA was on the gun and she had gunshot residue on her hands, testimony at trial showed.
But she was also shot three times: twice in the side of her head; once in her cheek. Prosecutors said the final shot came with the barrel pressed up against her cheek, suggesting murder, not self-defense.
“Mwaka was clearly murdered by those bullets,” Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Joe Vance told jurors.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley and the county’s Common Pleas Court’s judges recused themselves from the case because Collier-Williams gave testimony as a witness.
Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson testified that the shot to Mwaka Azali’s cheek ripped a braid off her head and lodged it in the couch, showing that she was lying down as her husband fired.
The couple’s two children, who were home at the time of the fatal shooting, also testified during the trial. But their testimony was inconclusive as to what they saw and where, exactly, they were, the Plain Dealer reported. The couple’s 8-year-old son brought a paper Chewbacca doll to the stand and asked if he could give it to his dad. The attorneys on both sides reportedly seemed amenable, but the judge cut in and said he could do it “some other time.”
In the end, the jury believed the state’s version of events.
The lives of the couple’s “two beautiful” children “are shattered,” the grieving sister continued during her increasingly emotional, often halting, victim impact statement, saying no sentence could bring back Mwaka Azali’s life, but that the defendant should be “taught a lesson.”
“My mother’s death has broken me,” the victim’s older daughter, who lives in her native Botswana, said during the sentencing hearing. “My wish is that the court gives him what he deserves.”
The defendant was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, plus two “mandatory” sentences of three years each, on separate firearms specifications, Cosgrove said. All three sentences will be served consecutively. He will be eligible for parole after 21 years in prison.
“We are proud of you,” Collier-Williams told her son, in a brief statement, before he was sentenced. “We are proud of the team.”
The defendant’s brother echoed those words, and said: “the system has failed you.”
Omnisun Azali will appeal his conviction and sentence, one of his defense attorneys said on Wednesday.
[image via screengrab/WOIO]
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