Robber whose victim wouldn't ID him in court gets mandatory life sentence due to felony record

A robber whose victim refused to finger him during an April trial was given a mandatory life sentence Wednesday, though his attorney tried to persuade Muscogee Superior Court Judge William Rumer to declare the punishment unconstitutional.

DeAndre Harris, 25, who’s already jailed for burglary, had three prior felonies on his record, and Georgia law requires such recidivists to be sentenced to life without parole when convicted of a fourth serious felony, in Harris’ case armed robbery.

Defense attorney Michael Garner argued such punishment violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishment. Garner noted the Georgia Supreme Court in the 2008 case Bradshaw v. State ruled it unconstitutional for a sex offender to get such a sentence for twice failing to record his address in the sex-offender registry.

By requiring such mandatory sentences, the Georgia General Assembly leaves judges no flexibility in cases that don’t justify it, Garner said. He said state legislators have the attitude, “We’re going to stick it to you if you get four felonies, and who cares what the facts are?”

Prosecutor Wesley Lambertus countered that until the legislature amends the Georgia code, it remains the law. And the facts of Harris’ case justify it, he said: Harris not only shot a man after robbing him, but threatened the victim and the victim’s family to impede the prosecution.

The victim was LaJay Jenkins, who after he was robbed March 17, 2012, identified Harris as his robber from photographs police showed him. But during Harris’ trial, Jenkins said Harris was not the man who robbed and shot him, and anything he told police while being treated at the hospital for his wounds was unreliable because of the medication he was on.

Lambertus claimed Jenkins, who because of a probation violation was jailed along with his assailant during the trial, had been threatened, and feared both for his safety and that of his wife and two small children.

Jenkins gave detectives this account of his robbery and assault: He was near the dead end of Marathon Drive east of South Lumpkin Road about 1:30 p.m. when someone behind him said, “Give it up, Jay.”

He turned and faced a pistol, and surrendered about $30 he had in his pockets, he said. He likely was targeted because everyone in the area knew he recently had won “30 stacks,” meaning $30,000, in the lottery, he said.

The robber told him to “get on,” he said, but before he could turn back, the gunman shot him. The bullet went through his right arm, crossed his chest cavity and lodged behind his heart, where it remains. He had broken ribs and a punctured lung, he said.

The next day, March 18, 2012, detectives audio-recorded Jenkins telling them the man who shot him was called “Boo”; the assailant was the brother of “Day-Day”; and he lived off Bond Avenue with his grandmother.

Police then showed Jenkins a photo lineup, from which the victim picked as “Day-Day” Darius Harris, Deandre Harris’ brother. A patrol officer later showed Jenkins a second picture lineup from which he picked Deandre Harris’ photo, identifying him as the man who had robbed and shot him.

The jury found Harris guilty, convicting him not only of armed robbery but of aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit a felony and being a convicted felon with a firearm.

Having rejected Garner’s Eighth Amendment argument Wednesday, Rumer gave Harris life without parole.

After the sentencing, Garner told Rumer that on Harris’ behalf he will file a motion for a new trial, a standard step in the appeals process. Rumer set a hearing on that motion for 2 p.m. Jan. 6.