Public Safety

Cedar Rapids man found guilty of lesser charges in deadly drug robbery

Convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Harris faces five years in prison

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Linn County jury on Friday found Donald Harris guilty of a lesser charge in the fatal shooting of man during a planned drug robbery in 2017.

Harris, 32, of Cedar Rapids, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and acquitted of first-degree robbery and going armed with intent.

Harris originally was charged with first-degree murder. He now faces up to five years in prison instead of a possible life sentence without parole.

The jury deliberated about eight hours following a four-day trial.

Mike Lahammer, Harris’ lawyer, after the jury was dismissed, asked 6th Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns to release his client pending sentencing because Harris has been in jail since last year.

Bruns said he would take it under advisement and make a ruling Tuesday. The courthouse is closed Monday for Veterans Day.

Lahammer, after the verdict, said he wanted to thank the jurors for their hard work and service on behalf of Harris.

“It was apparent that they were dedicated to their service and evident that they paid attention to the testimony and found what witnesses to be credible and others not,” Lahammer said.

Harris took the stand Thursday, denying he fatally shot Tarrance Newman, 40, of Cedar Rapids, on Nov. 12, 2017.

Harris claimed it was a co-defendant, Rayshaun Friend, 30, who testified two days before that Harris was the shooter.

Their version of events nearly matched, except for which man pulled the trigger.

Harris testified he went along with the plan to rob Newman of money and drugs but he didn’t intend to participate — only act as “ride along.” He owed Friend $1,500 for marijuana. Friend was pressuring him to pay up, and he feared him, he said.

Friend, also charged but who is receiving a plea deal to lesser charges, testified it was Harris’ “sting” — robbery — so he let Harris use his Glock .40.

The other co-defendant, James N. Johnson, 31, of Cedar Rapids, who also is charged and receiving a plea deal, and Jacey Blackwell, Harris’ former girlfriend, who wasn’t charged, testified this week that Harris was the only one using Friend’s gun and that he fatally shot Newman.

Harris testified that after the shooting, the group drove back to Friend’s residence and Friend told them to strip. Friend had “blood all over him,” Harris said.

“I didn’t take off my clothes … There was no need,” Harris said. “Johnson took off his.”

According to testimony, Blackwell told the men about Newman having a “wad” of money and she helped them gain access to his house.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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