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Man denied new trial in Waffle House armed robbery

CONYERS - A man serving 20 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Waffle House in Rockdale County will not get a new trial.

Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation rejected the request Thursday for a new trial for Jermaine Omar McKenzie in connection with the Dec. 14, 2006, robbery of the Waffle House on Salem Road.

McKenzie's attorney, Mark Gaffney, asked for the new trial, saying the evidence used against his client at trial was insufficient and his defense counsel was ineffective.

McKenzie was charged with entering a Waffle House about 3 a.m. and placing a gun to a waitress' neck, threatening to kill her.

Because the Waffle House robbery occurred during a period when there were a number of armed robberies in the county, the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office had formed a task force to monitor activities at businesses considered possible targets.

A deputy was staking out the Salem Road Waffle House when he saw a man coming out of the business wearing a mask, but before the man could get in a car in the parking lot, he apparently saw the deputy and fled into the woods.

A manhunt involving authorities with Rockdale and DeKalb counties canvassed the area, but the bandit initially got away.

Personal items found in the car, which was abandoned at the scene, were linked to McKenzie and he was arrested later that same day at his home in Decatur.

McKenzie, who was employed as a cook at a Waffle House in Lithonia, initially denied any involvement in the crime and said he was with his girlfriend in Decatur at the time of the robbery. However, cell phone records indicated he made a call from near the crime scene.

At trial in June, McKenzie, who was 21 at the time of the incident, changed his story. He testified that he did commit the robbery but said three men from his neighborhood in Decatur accosted him at gunpoint about midnight and said they would kill him, his girlfriend and his mother if he did not rob the restaurant.

It took the jury less than one hour to find McKenzie guilty of armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

After listening to McKenzie's argument Thursday, the judge said he believed McKenzie's attorney at trial, Daniel Partain, did a credible job despite the "vacillating position of the defendant."

Nation also said given the district attorney's case against the defendant, there was the "reasonable probability" the outcome of the trial would not have been different despite any legal tactics the defense may have employed.

Armed robbery is considered a "Deadly Sin," and under Georgia law, McKenzie will be required to serve the 20 years without the opportunity for parole. Once he is released, he will face 25 years of probation on the additional charges.

Ric Latarski can be reached at ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.