USA: African Immigrant on Trial

USA: African Immigrant on Trial

USA: African Immigrant on Trial

Date Distributed (ymd): 960910

A South African youth is facing the death penalty in the state of Mississippi, on charges which critics contend have little basis. The youth has only a court-appointed attorney. His trial, currently scheduled to begin on October 14, has been moved to a county notorious for racial bias. A defense committee has been formed, headed by noted South African anti-apartheid campaigner Dennis Brutus. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), which has taken up the case, is trying to raise support and funds to hire an independent attorney.

The following case brief was prepared by the NCADP.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) CASE BRIEF August 24, 1996

Azi Kambule: A South African 10th Grader Facing the Death Penalty in Mississippi

Azi's Background

Azikiwe Kambule was born and raised in the black township of Soweto, directly outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. When Azi was 10-years-old, his parents moved to Spruitview, where he attended the Ridge School. Initially, school officials were concerned with Azi's admittance because he, like many children in Soweto, had missed many days of formal instruction on account of school boycotts in protest of Apartheid. These concerns were quickly alleviated. Azi not only performed well in his classes, but found the time to participate actively in sports and sing in the school choir. After matriculating at the Ridge School, Azi attended Parktown Boys and was an exceptional student there as well.

In January of 1994, when he was 15-years-old, Azi moved with his parents to Jackson, Mississippi. They came to the United States because Azi's mother, Busisiwe, had a scholarship to obtain a Bachelor's degree at Jackson State University in Psychology. Azi's father, Michael, joined the family a year later. Unable to find employment before his visitor's visa expired, Mike returned to South Africa a year later determined to find a job that would enable him to hire proper counsel for his son.

Although Azi had done well in the rigorous educational program at the Ridge School and Parktown Boys, the school authorities in Mississippi nevertheless required him to be held back. Azi was placed in 8th grade at the Chastain Middle School in Jackson. Far from being educationally deficient, Azi was accepted into the honors French class.

In 1995, Azi began 9th grade at Jackson's Murrah High School. He performed well in his classes during his freshman year and enjoyed singing in the school choir. While Azi had no difficulty adjusting academically, there were social problems. Because of his foreign accent and mannerisms, his peers would make fun of him. These social pressures mounted by the time Azi reached the 10th grade. Wanting to be accepted, Azi befriended a group of older youth who spent little time in class but were very street-wise. When his grades began to fall, Azi's parents decided to scrape together the funds to send him to Piney Woods, a well-respected boarding school for black youth outside of Jackson. Azi was set to begin at this new school when tragedy struck.

Events Leading to Azi's Arrest:

On January 25, 1996, Azi was riding in a car driven by Santonio Berry, a man in his early twenties with a history of criminal behavior.

According to Azi's statement to the police, Berry saw Pam McGill drive by in a red sports car and stated that he wanted the vehicle. Berry drove behind Ms. McGill, and when she pulled into her apartment building's parking lot, he got our of his car with a gun. Berry forced Ms. McGill to move into the passenger seat of her vehicle and told Azi to get in the back. Berry then drove from Jackson into neighboring Madison County. He stopped the car, instructed Ms. McGill to come with him and told Azi to stay in the car. Berry took Ms. McGill deep in to the woods. Azi could not see or hear them. He also could not leave because he did not know how to drive the car. Eventually, Berry returned saying that he had shot Ms. McGill.

Azi was arrested approximately one week later when an informant notified police that Berry had been trying to sell Ms. McGill's car. From the moment of his arrest, Azi was cooperative. He took the police out several times to where he thought Berry had stopped McGill's car. Azi -- a child from a foreign county with no drivers license, no car, and no knowledge of the area beyond Jackson -- was unable to pinpoint the location. Eventually, some two months later, Berry took the police to the crime scene.

It was only then that authorities were able to verify that Ms. McGill had been killed. Azi was then charged as an accomplice to capital murder. This despite the fact that he had no criminal history; was not at the crime scene; and had cooperated fully with the authorities.

Madison County and The Impossibility of a Fair Trial:

The Hinds County prosecutor, Ed Peters, purposely moved Azi's trial to Madison County to increase the chance of a death sentence. As reported in the local paper, Peters stated that he was moving the trial because the "jurors in [predominantly black] Hinds County have a reputation for refusing to vote for the death penalty."

Madison County has become a refuge community for white police and civil servants seeking to create a racially exclusive environment. Middle-class families in Madison tend to live in private communities where entry is limited and private security companies often share the beat with local police. In the towns where there is some Black presence-- such as Canton, the county seat -- public schools are almost devoid of white pupils. White children in these areas are routinely sent to low-cost private Christian academies to thwart efforts at school desegregation.

Nor surprisingly, Madison County is the setting for John Grisham's A Time To Kill. Like neighboring Simpson County -- made famous in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the frequency with which young black inmates were found hanging by their belts and shoelaces -- law enforcement in Madison County has historically been racially biased.

In 1995, for example, amid wide-spread accusations of voter fraud and intimidation, federal agents had to be brought in to relieve the Sheriff's department of their election monitoring duties. The Black candidate for mayor of Canton had been expected to win and become the first African American to hold the post since Reconstruction. Under federal supervision, a new election was held. Shortly thereafter, Canton inaugurated its first Black mayor in over a century.

Earlier, in 1971, the Mississippi Supreme Court documented clear instances in which Madison County officials had systematically excluded Blacks from jury rolls -- decades after the United States Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional. Civil rights groups and defense attorneys say that prosecutors in counties like Madison still routinely remove Blacks from juries in capital trials.

The Criminal Justice System in Mississippi:

Why is Azi-- a child with no criminal record (or history of violence), an honor student and someone who cooperated fully with the police-- being tried for capital murder? The answer lies in the political rewards of seeking the death penalty.

It is not uncommon for prosecutors to use high profile cases to propel themselves into higher office. Madison County District Attorney John Kitchens sees his political future as being intimately linked with his ability to get harsh sentences in well publicized cases. This view pervades Mississippi politics.

Mississippi Governor has stated unequivocally that he intends to make Mississippi "the capital of capital punishment." For Fordice, the future of law enforcement and social control lies rooted in the past. Fordice has removed radios and televisions from prisons and reintroduced "zebra suits" as inmate uniforms. He also supported legislation that would have required violent criminals to receive six months of mandatory flogging upon entry into the state penitentiary. After Fordice's changes were implemented, the state penitentiary system experienced its biggest inmate riots in years.

Seeking the death penalty against Black youth under circumstances like Azi's which do not warrant such extreme punishment is not rare in Mississippi. In the late 1980s a Black teenage mother, Sabrina Butler, was sentenced to death for allegedly bludgeoning her baby. Sabrina's claim that she had given failed CPR to her baby was not only ignored, but used to argue that she had no shame. Only when private attorneys and medical experts intervened was it determined that Sabrina was telling the truth. After spending years fighting to clear her name and facing execution, Sabrina was found innocent and released. She left Mississippi's death row this year.

Children on Death Row in the U.S.: A Human Rights Violation and Racially Biased:

The situation in which Azi finds himself speaks volumes about the use of the death penalty against children. During this decade, only five nations in the world are known to have executed persons for crimes they committed when under 18-years-old. Those countries are Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia . . . and the United States. Of these five, America has executed the most. A condemned child in the United States also tends to be of darker hue -- 66% of those persons sentenced to death as children have been from racial minorities. In this century, 75% of all persons sentenced to death as children have been African American. Of the nine girls sentenced to death in the history of the United States, eight were African American and one was Native American. Given these racially biased statistics, it is not surprising that Azi has been chosen for the death penalty.

And nowhere is the international rule of law more clear than the prohibition on the use of the death penalty against children. Nearly every major human rights treaty in the world expressly forbids sentencing children to death. Significantly, the United Nations Covenant on Rights of the Child, which the US has signed, clearly states: "Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of parole shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age" If the Madison County prosecutor is successful in his attempt to convict Azi as an accomplice to capital murder, either of the possible sentences will violate international human rights standards.

Denied Bail, Azi Tries to Better Himself and Avoid Danger:

Although Azi had no history of violence or arrest, he was denied bail. He is currently being housed in the Madison County Jail. Since incarceration, Azi has continued his studies, having passed with high marks the initial tests for a general equivalency high school diploma. Azi has also received a letter of commendation from a correspondence Bible school. While trying to make the best of his terrible situation, Azi is also in great danger. As noted earlier, the Mississippi jail system has a history of Black teens being found dead in their cells. The occurrence has been so prevalent that the United States Department of Justice conducted a full-scale investigation just a few years ago.

Azi is in particular danger because he has been assigned to share a cell with a person who has already been convicted of a crime. It is against the law to keep pre-trial detainees like Azi in the same cell with persons who have already been found guilty. Azi's cellmate continuously harasses Azi and threatens to do bodily harm to him. Azi has also been denied access to a spiritual adviser. His minister was suddenly denied access to visit with Azi; this is the first time in all his years of visiting persons in jail has the minister ever been stopped from going inside. Additionally, Azi has been denied proper access to a telephone. The phone has been broken for several weeks, making it impossible for him to call his mother.

Four Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Save Azi:

1) Forward this Message to All of Your Friends and Press Contacts

2) Write the District Attorney:

---Azi is a South African child who has no history of violence or prior run-ins with the law; was so far away from the murder that he did not even hear the gun shots; and has fully cooperated with the police. There is no reason why DA Kitchens should be seeking to kill him or put him behind bars for the rest of his life!


P.O. BOX 121/ CANTON, MS 39046/ (601) 859-8880-fax /(601) 859-7838-phone.


Please contact the following news organizations:

--Clarion-Ledger Newspaper: "Mississippi's Newspaper" -

--WLBT T.V. News -

--Jackson Advocate Newspaper: "The Voice of Black Mississippians", 300 N.Farish Street, Jackson,MS 39202 - Fax: (601) 948-4125

4) Contact the NCADP to join the campaign.

--Inquiries and contributions should be directed to: National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (attn: Ben Jealous), 918 "F" Street, NW Suite 601, Washington, DC 20004; (202) 347-2411, ext. 16; E-mail:


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 11:55:33 -0500 Subject: USA: African Immigrant on Trial

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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