Clevelandurbannews.com, Ohio's Black digital news leader

Breaking news from Cleveland, Ohio from a Black perspective.©2024

Sun06162024

Last update04:03:19 pm

Font Size

Profile

Menu Style

Cpanel

Clevelandurbannews.com

Who's Online

We have 58 guests online
01234567891011
Back Contact Us

Black Cuyahoga County judge whose son murdered his wife fights for custody of her grandchildren....By editor Kathy Wray Coleman of Clevelandurbannews.com, Ohio's Black digital news leader

  • PDF

Pictured are are Cuyahoga county court of Common Pleas Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams and her son Omnisun Azali, who was convicted in December of 2022 of murdering his wife

Clevelandurbannews.com andKathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com

By Kathy Wray Coleman, associate publisher, editor-in-chief. Coleman is a Black political and investigative reporter out of Cleveland, Ohio who trained for 17 years at the Call and Post newspaper.

Comprehensive/Investigative article

CLEVELAND, Ohio - A Black Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge whose son was convicted of murdering his wife in December of 2022 in a case that has drawn national attention is now fighting the county department of children and family services and the two children's aunt from Africa for custody of her grandchildren via a trial that got underway this week in downtown Cleveland, Ohio at the county juvenile court. Like the murder trial, a visiting judge is presiding in the case to avoid a conflict of interest because the man's mother, Cassandra-Collier Williams, is a common pleas judge.

 


Ominsun Azali, 36, and of Euclid, is currently serving a life sentence for convictions last year in the shooting death of his wife, Mwaka's  Azali's. The criminal case is on appeal.


At issue relative to the custody trial is whether the two elementary school-aged children should go to their African aunt in Botswana, Africa or with the county so that the judge could possibly adopt them. The aunt, Rebecca Tawana, spoke from Africa during sentencing after the criminal trial and participated in the custody hearing, both by Zoom, and she made it clear that she wants justice for her sister's murder. Her attorneys of record, no doubt, are wholeheartedly behind her.


The county backed off of giving custody of the children to the judge after a case worker said she let them talk to their father by phone from prison after he was sentenced in violation of a court order for no contact, though the judge's attorney said at trial that the court order was only in effect during the pendency of the trial. County officials say that either the judge or her attorneys should have gotten a court order clarifying the no contact order before the judge let the children talk to their murderous father while a custody dispute is pending, and they said that the judge handpicked a counselor for her grandchildren and that that too was inappropriate.


The county case worker, Brianna Blair, also testified at this week's custody trial that emails from the judge to the aunt reflect that Collier Williams might deliberately complicate the relationship between her grandchildren and her son's in laws, including their maternal grandmother, who, like their aunt, lives in Botswana, a poor South-African country of some 2.3 million people and one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.


The judge testified too and said that if she were to get custody she would continue to support a relationship between her grandchildren and her son's in laws and that the children belong with their paternal grandmother. Sources say that the judge might be getting penalized because her son is appealing his criminal convictions and prosecutors are angry that she testified last year in support of her son at trial, and that she pleaded for leniency at sentencing, and questioned the jury verdict, a largely White jury verdict in fact.


Attorneys for the aunt argued at the custody hearing that the judge has an undying loyalty to the son even after he was convicted of murder They told the court that she is allegedly elitist and believes she has an automatic right to custody of the children, and that her son is a murderer and an "animal from America, an indication of how contentious the custody proceedings have become. But attorneys for the children, who came to the country with their parents when they were infants, said at trial that Collier Williams can provide the best home for her grandchildren. She has had custody of them since March, after children and family services, which took them upon their father's arrest nearly two years ago, released them to her.


There is no argument, however, that the entire ordeal is tragic and has left two young children in disarray, and without a mother or father to care for them after a common pleas court failed to exonerate their father and a judge threw the hammer at him at sentencing, somewhat.


Visiting and retired Judge Patricia Cosgrove last year sentenced Ominsun Azali, who had been indicted on several felony charges and faced 15-years to life on the murder conviction alone, to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 21 years for his wife's murder The judge took the liberty to chastise him before she sentenced him to time behind bars, saying he had taken the life of a young mother and wife unnecessarily.


Following a two week long trial a  common pleas jury found Azali guilty of murder, felonious assault, domestic violence and several other felony charges, all but aggravated murder, which requires a finding of prior intent. The jury deliberated for 10 hours before reaching its stinging verdict.


He appeared for sentencing in casual attire and was brought up from the county jail where he was in custody after getting convicted days prior. Prior to that he had been free after posting 10 percent of a $900,000 bond after arraignment in 2021.


The murder occurred on May 26, 2021 at the couple's home in the 100 block of East. 265th Street in the city of Euclid, a lower to middle class Cleveland suburb of nearly 50,000 people that is roughly 62 percent Black.The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner ruled Mwaka's  Azali's death a homicide.


Prosecutors said little at sentencing and instead pointed to his wife's sister, who now wants custody of her niece and nephew. She told the visiting judge via Zoom at sentencing that her family was heartbroken over her sister's death and that their mother was "shattered." She added that her sister was a loving mother and said "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

 

Judge Collier Williams also spoke at sentencing. She reiterated her stance that her son acted in self defense and then turned and looked at her son and said "I am proud of everything that you have done." Her son, the defendant at the time, did not speak at sentencing likely, say sources, because his attorneys have appealed the case to the 8th District Court of Appeals. A source said that Collier -Williams did everything she could do within reason to try to save the life of her son, whom she told the court at sentencing that she loved dearly, as well as his family.


Domestic violence advocates do not buy the sympathy and the self defense claim and say that he is a coward and should have just walked away rather than shooting and killing his wife. His hired attorneys said at the criminal trial that his troubled wife gave him no alternative but to shoot and kill her in self defense.


With his mother's support, Azali claimed his innocence from the very beginning. He testified at trial that he shot his African wife three times in the head in self-defense because she pointed a gun at him and that prior to doing that she had shot three times in the house with the same gun. He told jurors that his wife had argued with him and had punched him in the face before he shot and killed her.


He continued testifying and said that after killing his wife he contacted his mother by phone rather than initially calling police and then left the home with the couple’s two children and drove to her home. The judge later called 9-1-1 and then road with him back to the couple's Euclid home where police met them and arrested him on murder and other charges. He was later indicted by a county grand jury.


The office of Summit County Prosecutor Sherry Belwin- Walsh, a tough and seasoned prosecutor, prosecuted the case for the state in place of County Prosecutor Mike O'Malley because Collier-Williams is a county judge. Also, the judge's colleagues on the bench refused to hear the case, saying, like O'Malley, that it would be a conflict of interest.


Judge Cosgrove, the retired visiting judge who presided over the criminal case, was assigned to the case by the Ohio Supreme Court after Collier-Williams' judicial colleagues bowed out. The case was intriguing from the start because it involved murder charges against the son of a sitting judge.


Defense counsel at the time, Jeffery Saffold, now a common pleas judge and Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland-Saffold’s son who won election to the common pleas bench last November, said in opening statements at trial that the shooting was in self-defense and that Mwaka Azali was reaching for a pistol when Omnisun Azali shot her with his own gun. He was consulted as a potential defense counsel before the judge's son was even charged and arrested by Euclid police, prosecutors said at trial, though that is not, in isolation, necessarily illegal.


Authorities found two guns in the home where the murder occurred, including a .380 caliber handgun next to Mwaka Azali’s body, the latter gun of which had her DNA on the trigger, investigators said at trial.


Prosecutors argued at trial that Mwaka Azali’s wounds and two bullet holes found in the home were inconsistent with self-defense and accused the judge, who took the stand at trial, of a cover-up of her son’s murder of his wife. Prosecutors told jurors that the judge called then attorney Saffold, who was later hired as defense counsel, and then waited 15 minutes to call 9-1-1 after her son and the couple's children arrived at her home after the murder. The judge, however, kept her composure under intense questioning from prosecutors, and she testified that she acted in her best judgment, and in the best judgment of all involved.


Police found bullet holes in the wall that were fired from Mwaka Azali’s .380-caliber pistol, which was found on the ottoman next to her body on the couch. But that was not enough for the jury to acquit the judge’ s son, particularly after prosecutors called the couple's two children, an eight-year-old son and nine year-old daughter, to the stand at trial and the son testified that he saw his father point the gun at his mother and that his mother did not have a gun. In fact, the testimony of the judge’s grandson was the smoking gun that broke the case wide open, sources said after trial.

Neither of the two children at the center of the custody battle in jubilee court witnessed the tragic murder of their mother, who struggled with mental health issues, defense counsel said at trial Domestic violence relative to the couple was no secret, sources said.

Collier-Williams is currently one of four Black judges on the 34-member largely White general division common pleas bench in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's' second largest of its 88 counties and a county that includes the majority Black city of Cleveland and is a Democratic stronghold.

By Kathy Wray Coleman, associate publisher, editor-in-chief (Coleman is a former biology teacher and a seasoned Black journalist, and an investigative, legal, scientific, and political reporter who trained for 17 years at the Call and Post Newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio).

Clevelandurbannews.com andKathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.comthe most read Black digital newspaper and blog in Ohio and in the Midwest Tel: (216) 659-0473. Email: editor@clevelandurbannews.com. We interviewed former president Barack Obama one-on-one when he was campaigning for president. As t o the Obama interview,CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT CLEVELAND URBAN NEWS.COM, OHIO'S LEADER IN BLACK DIGITAL NEWS.

Ads

Our Most Popular Articles Of The Last 6 Months At Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's Black Digital News Leader...Click Below

Latest News