Public Safety

21-year-old faces up to 50 years for fatally shooting Cedar Rapids man, dumping body in alley

Pleaded to second-degree murder

James Phillips, 21, is led out of the courtroom to speak with his lawyers at a plea hearing Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at t
James Phillips, 21, is led out of the courtroom to speak with his lawyers at a plea hearing Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Phillips pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Leland Harris in 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A 21-year-old man who fatally shot a man and dumped his body in an alley in 2017 won’t face life in prison because he pleaded Tuesday to a lesser charge.

James S. Phillips, initially charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Linn County District Court. During the plea hearing, he admitted to shooting and killing Leland Harris, 34, of Cedar Rapids, on Nov. 21, 2017, in the 500 block of 10th Street SW.

He also admitted to acting with malice aforethought — an intent to kill, which is required for second-degree murder.

Phillips faces up to 50 years in prison. His other charges — conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, first-degree theft and going armed with intent — will be dismissed at sentencing.

He won’t have to serve the normal mandatory minimum of 17 1/2 years before being eligible for parole because he was 17 at the time of the shooting.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mary Chicchelly told Phillips that, as part of the plea agreement, the 50 years will run consecutively to his third-degree sexual abuse conviction of a 14-year-old girl in a separate case, for a total of up to 60 years.

A criminal complaint showed Phillips shot Harris from the back seat of a car in 2017. The first shot killed Harris, but Phillips fired two more shots, striking Harris, after pushing him out of a vehicle, the complaint stated.

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There is no information in the court records whether Harris was in the front seat or the back seat with Phillips at the time.

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

Witnesses told police Phillips was the shooter and the only person in the vehicle with a gun, the complaint stated.

Prosecutors haven’t provided a motive for the shooting and have not said if Phillips knew Harris. More information likely will be revealed during sentencing.

Harris’ death remained unsolved until Phillips was arrested and charged in the sexual abuse case.

About five months after Phillips was charged, a second suspect, Lloyd Koger, 44, of Cedar Rapids, was charged in Harris’ death.

Koger is accused of aiding and abetting Phillips in killing Harris by driving the vehicle where Harris was shot, and also supplying the firearm to Phillips, the complaint stated.

He is charged with first-degree murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, accessory after the fact and felon in possession of a firearm.

Koger’s trial is set for April 12.

At sentencing, Phillips also will be ordered to pay $150,000 in victim restitution to Harris’ estate or heirs.

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

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