Public Safety

Complaint: Cedar Rapids man fatally shot from back seat of car

Judge sets $1 million bail

/

CEDAR RAPIDS — A 2017 fatal shooting initially happened in a vehicle when a teenager, now 19, shot 34-year-old Leland Harris from the back seat, pushed Harris out of the vehicle and fired two more shots, a criminal complaint shows.   

James Stephan Phillips, of Cedar Rapids, was charged Thursday in Linn County District Court with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, first-degree theft and going armed with intent. He is accused of fatally shooting Harris, of Cedar Rapids, on Nov. 21, 2017.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Nicholas Scott set a $1 million cash bail, as requested by the Linn County Attorney’s Office.

A complaint shows Harris and Phillips were in the vehicle but does not specify if Harris was in the front seat or in the back seat with Phillips. The first shot killed Harris, but Phillips fired two more shots, striking Harris, after pushing him out of the vehicle, according to the complaint.

Phillips also is accused of conspiring or agreeing with others to commit the crime of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and/or aid another in the planning of a crime, the complaint shows.

After killing Harris, Phillips took his cellphone, wallet and cash, according to the complaint.

Witnesses at the shooting told police Phillips was the shooter and the only person in the vehicle with a gun, according to the complaint.    

Harris was found at 7:27 a.m. Nov. 22, 2017, in an alley in the 500 block of 10th Street SW, according to police. The state medical examiner determined Harris died from gunshot wounds. Police said Harris likely died late on Nov. 21, 2017.

According to an obituary, Harris was a graduate of Xavier High School. He loved “dancing, music, art and people,” the obituary states.

Phillips was arrested Wednesday in Harris’ death, but he already was in the Linn County Jail pending a third-degree sexual abuse charge and had been serving a short jail sentence for an assault conviction in February, according to court documents.

Phillips was charged in November with sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl on June 24, 2018. The teen told a forensic interviewer at St. Luke’s Child Protection Center the abuse started when she was 13, according to a criminal complaint.

Investigators recovered text messages exchanged between Phillips and victim, which corroborated her account of the sexual abuse, the complaint shows.

Phillips trial on that charge is set for May 6.

Phillips pleaded guilty in February to assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor, according to court documents. He punched Edward Finley multiple times, causing swelling and bleeding to Finley’s face. He was sentenced to eight days in jail.

He has other previous convictions for possession of marijuana, assault, theft and interference with official acts. 

The investigation into the Harris shooting has been ongoing, and police said Phillips could face additional charges.

If Phillips is convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison without parole.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.