Convicted gang member gets life in prison for robbery gone wrong

Credit: Troup County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Troup County Sheriff's Office

A convicted gang member was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the murder of a man who had intended to purchase a gun from him.

James Jake Ponder, 24, was shot multiple times Feb. 9, 2019, while sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle after he picked up Travis McFarland and another man in LaGrange. Ponder had arranged with the two men to buy a firearm, but prosecutors believe McFarland, who was 17 at the time, never intended to sell anything.

Evidence presented during his trial showed McFarland shot and killed Ponder as the result of a robbery gone wrong, with the intention to increase his status in a local branch of the Bloods criminal street gang, according to John “Herb” Cranford, the district attorney for the Coweta County Judicial Circuit.

“This case is another tragic example of lives being ruined and families being destroyed by criminal street gangs,” Cranford said in a statement. “Mr. Ponder, the victim, has lost his life and his family will never be the same — all because the defendant chose to commit a robbery and was willing to kill for it.”

Ponder was shot in his back, hands and leg and died the same night, Cranford said. Within days, LaGrange police had identified McFarland as a suspect, and Omare Atcherson, then 21, was identified as his alleged accomplice.

Credit: LaGrange Police Department

Credit: LaGrange Police Department

Atcherson has been indicted and is awaiting trial, Cranford said Wednesday.

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McFarland was known as “Slime Hext,” which the top prosecutor said referred to a slang term for robbery. A jury convicted him last week for two violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act for his participation in the Bounty Hunter gang.

He was also convicted of felony murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, as well as possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

On Wednesday, Coweta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Markette Baker sentenced McFarland, now 21, to life in prison with the possibility of parole, followed by 75 years in prison.

“As an appropriate and just consequence, he will spend a substantial portion, if not the remainder of his life, in prison,” Cranford said. “Case after case shows that criminal street gang activity leads to death or substantial incarceration.”

A trial date for Atcherson has not been set. He was indicted on the same charges as McFarland, including murder and gang participation, and Cranford said LaGrange police are still investigating the possibility that others were involved in Ponder’s death.