By Shayna Jacobs and Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Afrika Owes, the former prep school student accused of transporting weapons for a Harlem street gang surrendered herself in court Tuesday to serve another three months in jail in exchange for a plea deal and youthful offender status.
"There are all kinds of reason why this makes sense. This is a good resolution," said Theodore Shaw, an attorney for the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which posted $25,000 of its own money to post Owes' bail. "She doesn't have to testify and when she comes out she won't have an adult felony conviction which could have enormous consequences on the rest of her life," Shaw said.
"The church continues to stand behind Afrika," Shaw added. The $25,000 bail money will be returned to Abysinnian Baptist Church, under the terms of the deal.
Owes will plead guilty to second-degree conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon on July 7, but he case will eventually be sealed and she will be given youthful offender status, her lawyer Elsie Chandler said Tuesday. The status could spare her from having a permanent criminal record if she doesn't get arrested again.
Owes faced 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
Owes will not be testifying against her co-defendants as a condition of the deal, her lawyers said.
She elected to carry out Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Edward McLaughlin's request that she serve 90 more days at Rikers Island before being offered youthful offender status now so that she can be free by the time her senior year of high school starts in the fall, Chandler said. She will still be on interim probation in September and will have to check in with a probation officer, Chandler said.
"We anticipate that she will apply and be accepted to college and that such court proposed supervision will continue until her acceptance and entry into college," Chandler said.
"If she successfully completes these conditions, Judge McLaughlin has promised he will adjudicate Ms. Owes to a youthful offender and that she will not receive a sentence that involves further incarceration," she added at the brief court appearance.
Owes, a former student at the prestigious Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, 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 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 was released from jail in April after Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Edward McLaughlin allowed Abyssinian to post her bail in what he acknowledged was an unusual scenario.
After being released from jail, Owes returned to school, her attorney Elsie Chandler said previously. The church has said it would keep an eye on Owes and make sure she did not get into further trouble.
"I'm grateful for God and my church," said Owes after attending Easter service at Abyssinian.
Owes has taken "responsibility for her own errors of judgment," Chandler said Tuesday.
"This is a young woman who could go on to do whatever it is she wants with her life." she said.