Public Safety

Cedar Rapids man sentenced to 5 years in deadly drug robbery

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday after being convicted on a lesser charge in the 2017 fatal shooting of a man during a drug robbery gone awry.

Donald Harris, 32, originally charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent, was convicted by a Linn County jury last month for involuntary manslaughter.

Harris, during trial, testified he didn’t fatally shoot Tarrance Newman, 40, of Cedar Rapids, on Nov. 12, 2017. He claimed it was a co-defendant, Rayshaun Friend, 30, who also testified, saying Harris was the shooter.

Their version of events nearly matched, except for which man pulled the trigger. In both versions, they said they had planned to rob Newman of drugs and money.

Friend 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, and Jacey Blackwell, Harris’ former girlfriend, who wasn’t charged, testified that Harris was the only one using Friend’s gun and that he fatally shot Newman.

At trial, Harris testified the group went to Friend’s house after the shooting where Friend changed clothes because he had “blood all over him. I didn’t take off my clothes. There was no need.”

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

Mike Lahammer, Harris’ lawyer, asked 6th Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns to give Harris probation, saying Friend and Johnson received plea agreements for lesser charges and both were sentenced to probation.

Lahammer also argued that the jury must have had reasonable doubt about Harris having a gun during the robbery because they acquitted him on going armed with intent. It seemed to him, he said, that the prosecution was asking for a prison term as a sort of “punishment” because Harris wanted a trial.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jordan Schier, in asking for prison time, said based on the jury’s verdict, they hold Harris responsible for Newman’s death.

Harris, during the hearing, apologized to the court, community and Newman’s family for what happened.

“I want to better my life,” he said.

Harris also said he was recently given custody of his daughter pending his sentence and that he needed to care for her because her mother couldn’t.

Bruns said the manslaughter verdict didn’t mean Harris wasn’t responsible for the death of Newman.

He said he didn’t think Harris was a good candidate for probation because he was on pretrial release for theft out of Floyd County when the 2017 shooting happened.

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Harris also didn’t complete the Iowa Domestic Abuse Program after being convicted of domestic abuse, and he has a significant criminal history, Bruns noted.

Bruns also ordered Harris to pay $150,000 to Newman’s heirs or estate, as required by law.

He waived the prosecution and court costs, along with his attorney’s fees because Harris doesn’t have the financial ability to pay.

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

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