By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Afrika Owes, the former prep school student accused of ferrying guns for a Harlem street gang, was released from jail Tuesday after a judge allowed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem to post $25,000 cash bail.
Owes, 17, walked out of court wearing a big smile accompanied by her mother, her lawyer and a throng of church members. They paused to pray outside of the courthouse.
"We pray that she enjoy her freedom and know that it has been costly," said a church member who led the group in prayer. "We pray that she would know there is a host of people who love her and care about her and that she would know redemption is your name."
Owes was one of 14 people charged as part of an investigation into the Harlem street gangs "2 Mafia Family," also known as 2MF, and "Goons on Deck." Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. called the gangs, which operated at Lenox Avenue and West 137th Street, among of the city's most violent.
Prominent community leaders including Rev. Calvin Butts, of Abyssinian, and Rep. Charles Rangel came out in support of the former student at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Butts has preached about the young woman from the pulpit, saying she was "led astray." Rangel said she should not be treated as a "hardened criminal."
Owes came to court in handcuffs and smiled when she saw her mother. She shed happy tears outside the courthouse as members of her congregation prayed for her.
"I'm more than happy," Owes' mother, Karen, said outside of the courtroom.
"We hope this help her stays on the straight and narrow and reach her potential," said James Singletary, 40, a member of Abyssinian who worked with Owes as her youth minister.
Theodore Shaw, an attorney for Abyssinian, said it was unusual for the church to post bail, but said the congregation did not believe in abandoning its members.
"She's ecstatic. Freedom is something we don't appreciate until we lose it," Shaw said. "She's not a threat, she's not a flight risk, which is the only thing that is important."
Shaw said that Owes plans to return to school to attend regular classes and that her family has already spoken to school officials about her return.
Owes' attorney, Elsie Chandler, was also very happy with Tuesday's outcome.
"I'm enormously grateful to the church and inspired by the fact they not only put up cash bail but came to court," said Chandler. "My client is looking forward to going back to school but in some ways, the work now begins."
Chandler had previously expressed concern about her client's safety, saying that Owes was no "snitch" and did not cooperate with prosecutors.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Edward McLaughlin set Owes' trial date for Sep. 13.
Deacon Gerald Barbour of Abyssinian said the church will be tracking Owes' progress.
"There are people in the church who will follow her and make sure she does all the things she's supposed to do, go back to school, get on track to graduate and come back in September," Barbour said.
"She knows she has a rough road ahead but today she will go home and be with her friends and family," he added. "Whatever comes up in the future she will be better for it."