Public Safety

Cedar Rapids man testifies he wasn't the killer in drug robbery

Donald Harris said co-defendant, Rayshaun Friend, was the shooter

CEDAR RAPIDS — Donald Harris, who is accused of fatally shooting another man during a drug robbery, testified Thursday he wasn't the shooter Nov. 12, 2017. It was a co-defendant — the same man who testified earlier this week that Harris was the killer.

The version of events by Harris, 32, and Rayshaun Friend, 30, nearly match, except for who pulled the trigger and killed Tarrance Newman, 40, during the robbery in Cedar Rapids.

Harris said he went along with the plan to rob Newman but 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.

Harris is on trial this week in Linn County District Court for first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent. The defense rested after Harris testified.

After closing arguments Thursday afternoon, the jury started deliberations, which will continue Friday morning.

Friend and James N. Johnson, 31, who also are charged in the case but are receiving plea deals, and Jacey Blackwell, Harris’ former girlfriend, who wasn’t charged, testified this week that Harris was the only one using Friend’s Glock .40 and that he fatally shot Newman.

Harris, during testimony, said he regarded Friend as a friend before the robbery, but he also feared “Raygun or Guns” — Friend’s nickname because he was known for carrying guns.

That night of the robbery, Friend was pressuring him to pay his $1,500 drug debt, so Harris called Blackwell to borrow money. Blackwell told him not to worry, and she would “take care of” Friend.

Friend then talked to Blackwell, and she told him about a possible “sting” — robbery for them, Harris said. She knew a man, Newman, who had “a lot of money,” Harris said.

Harris said he knew Blackwell called about the robbery because Friend only talked to his brother — Wayne Jones, who was just fatally shot last weekend — and Blackwell that night.

Harris said Friend told them to dress in dark clothing with gloves. Friend gave him a purple glove to put on, insisting he wear it.

The purple glove was found near the house and tested for DNA, which matched Harris, according to trial testimony. A cigarette butt also was found outside the home and the DNA matched Harris and Johnson.

Karah Langager, Friend’s former girlfriend, drove them to an area down the street from Newman’s house, 1506 D Ave. NE, in Cedar Rapids. Blackwell said she would leave the door open. Bt when they walked up to the house, Friend said, the door was locked.

Friend called Blackwell, who was at Newman’s house, and she came out to the car to sell marijuana for Newman to Langager, or that was the story she told Newman, so the three men could follow her back.

Friend was behind Blackwell, and Johnson was behind Friend, as they went into the enclosed porch area, Harris said. He was crouched down to the side of the stairs at the bottom. Harris said he didn’t plan to participate.

Friend and Johnson started pushing against the door after Newman opened it for Blackwell, Harris said. Newman tried to keep them out, but Friend “slipped inside.”

That’s when the “gunshot go off,” Harris said. Newman stumbled out the door, falling on the porch.

“He fell right in front of me,” Harris said. “I heard him take his last breath,” Harris said.

Friend and Blackwell testified Harris made that statement but indicated it was more like bragging that he killed him.

Harris ran from the house and eventually got back in the car with the others. They 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.”

Harris was “terrified” for his life and left the next day for Chicago to hide out. He heard Friend was looking for him later.

Harris said he didn’t shoot Newman. He feels bad about what happened and gave his “condolences to the Newman family,” while testifying.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jordan Schier, on cross examination, said the DNA found on the purple glove and cigarette by the door belonged to him.

Harris agreed.

Schier questioned how Harris could see the door of the house if he was crouched down by the side of the house.

“You couldn’t see because you went inside and shot Newman?” Schier said.

Harris denied that.

Schier then brought up Harris’ convictions in Floyd and Howard counties in 2011, 2012 and 2013 for thefts, assault and domestic abuse while displaying a dangerous weapon and domestic assault causing bodily injury.

Harris admitted to those but said those were in the past and he’s changed.

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

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