A gang member was sentenced to 30 years in prison for robbing two people in 2019 at a Cherokee County apartment alongside three accomplices, officials announced Thursday.
Ajani Malik Harris, 22, of Powder Springs, was convicted of armed robbery, aggravated assault, violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was recently sentenced to 60 years, with the first 30 to be served in prison and the remainder on probation. Harris is also not allowed to enter Cherokee County and is not allowed contact with any member of a gang.
An investigation began after Harris, Jayden Hickman of Marietta, Rachel Marek of Kennesaw and Doriean McElheney of Kennesaw robbed two people July 23, 2019, Cherokee District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Cyndi Crossland said.
Marek invited a man to an apartment in unincorporated Acworth and, when he arrived, Harris was waiting in the parking lot with a rifle in a guitar case, Crossland said. The victim and another man eventually entered the apartment, where Crossland said Harris pointed a rifle at them.
Hickman also pointed a handgun, according to Crossland. McElheney was accused of assisting by taking a wallet, cellphone, headphones and shoes.
Detectives were given descriptions of the suspects and were able to arrest all of them, Cherokee sheriff’s office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker previously said. The apartment was searched and Baker said authorities recovered a loaded .22 caliber rifle with a silencer and a .40 caliber handgun. They also found a wallet in a trash can that contained several cards with the victim’s name, he said. The cellphone and headphones were also recovered.
By analyzing social media, electronic devices and jail communications, as well as collaborating with Kennesaw police, Crossland said investigators were able to determine the four suspects were members of criminal street gangs, specifically Yarborough Park Crips and Young Slime Life.
“Other evidence in the case showed that the criminal acts were committed in furtherance of gang activity,” Crossland said.
While Harris was in jail in January 2020, Crossland said the district attorney’s office was able to uncover communication between him and another person via phone. The call revealed Harris needed assistance with his case and mentioned a letter containing instructions for the victims of the armed robbery, Crossland added.
A search warrant was obtained and officials found the letter, in which Harris provided personal details about the victims, as well as a plan to threaten, bribe and intimidate them to prevent them from testifying against him, according to Crossland.
“Ajani Harris not only failed to take responsibility for his actions, but also worked to circumvent the system by using his status in the gang to intimidate and threaten the victims in this case,” Assistant District Attorney Megan Hertel said. “This jury, through its verdict, and this court, through its sentence, have shown our community that we will not be intimidated by criminal street gangs in Cherokee County.”
Following Harris’ sentencing, Crossland said he entered a non-negotiated guilty plea for conspiracy to commit for attempting to influence a witness and the other gang charges. He was sentenced to an additional 20 years.
Harris’ three accomplices pleaded guilty prior to trial. McElheney, 21, and Hickman, 22, were sentenced to 20 years, with 10 years to be served in prison. Marek, 22, was sentenced to 20 years, with five years to be served in prison.
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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution