Teen freed in gang case after church posts bail

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NBC New York

With tears and prayers, a former boarding school student charged with being a gun courier for a Harlem drug gang has been freed from jail after a prominent Harlem church posted her bail and Rep. Charles Rangel went to court to support her.

Afrika Owes wiped her eyes and members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church prayed as she left a courthouse Tuesday after two months behind bars. Members voted to post $25,000 cash bail for the 17-year-old.

“O God, bless Afrika,” the Rev. E. Marshall Turman, an assistant minister at the historic church, said as she led Afrika Owes and more than a dozen others in prayer outside the courthouse. “You have brought her this far.”

Deacon Gerald Barbour says the church wanted to help a teenager who has been a member since childhood but was arrested in February.

“We can not throw them away on the trash heap,” Barbour told NBC New York. “We will stand by them.”

As the girlfriend of accused gang leader Jaquan “Jay Cash” Layne, Owes carried his gun and later carried his instructions when he was jailed on other charges, prosecutors said. In conversations on a recorded jail phone in 2009 and 2010, he discussed with her how the drug business was going in his absence, told her to distribute guns to another associate and advised her that if things got “crazy, let it go … make sure, head shots only,” according to an indictment.

She, meanwhile, mentioned that she had routinely carried his 9 mm semiautomatic pistol before he was jailed, the indictment said.

Owes and Layne, 20, have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and weapon-possession charges. Layne’s lawyer has suggested his client wasn’t the drug lord prosecutors portray; Layne himself told the Daily News in a jail interview last month that “she didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. … People don’t know the whole story.”

Rangel said after one of Owes’ court appearances last month that “kids make mistakes.”

The church’s attorney says the charges have nothing to do with Owes is allowed bail.

“The issue isn’t whether or not there’s culpability here,” said Theodore Shaw. “The issue is whether somebody who is presumed innocent and somebody who is entitled to bail, pending a trial, is released.”

Owes, along with 13 co-defendants are due back in court in September to stand trial. If convicted she faces up to 25 years in prison.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York