Public Safety

Man fatally shot and dumped in Cedar Rapids alley remained unsolved crime for nearly two years

Leland J. Harris
Leland J. Harris
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A man in his 30s with “fatal traumatic injuries” was found lying in an alley by police at 7:27 a.m. Nov. 22, 2017, in the 500 block of 10th Street SW.

Police didn’t initially identify the man but said they were investigating his death as a homicide.

Five days later, police said Leland Harris, 34, of Cedar Rapids, was the man found in the alley. But they still wouldn’t give details of how he died, and nobody was arrested in the case.

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

Harris was one of six homicides in 2017.

What has happened since

His death remained unsolved for nearly two years until James Stephan Phillips, 19, was arrested and charged in April 2019 with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, first-degree theft and going armed with intent in the fatal shooting of Harris on Nov. 21, 2017. A medical examiner determined Harris died from gunshot wounds.

Phillips, who was 17 when the shooting occurred, was charged in Harris’ death after already being convicted of third-degree sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in June 2018. In a separate case, he was convicted of assault in February 2019.

His record also showed convictions for possession of marijuana, assault, theft and interference with official acts.

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, according to the complaint.

The complaint didn’t specify if Harris was in the front or back seat with Phillips.

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

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

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

A second arrest didn’t happen until five months later in October 2019. Lloyd Koger, 42, of Cedar Rapids, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, accessory after the fact, felon in possession of a firearm and driving while barred.

Koger was accused of aiding and abetting Phillips in killing Harris by driving the vehicle where Harris was shot, according to a criminal complaint. He also supplied the firearm to Phillips “with the intent the firearm be used to intimidate the victim,” the complaint said.

Koger, who had a barred driver’s license, then drove the vehicle out of town, attempted to clean the car and eventually sold it, according to the complaint.

Both men have pleaded not guilty. Phillips’ trial is set for March 23 and Koger’s is April 13.

Later this month, Phillips will ask a judge to toss out statements he made to police during two interviews last March because he asked for a lawyer during the first interview.

According to a defense motion, Cedar Rapids police interviewed Phillips about the Harris shooting March 1 while Phillips was in the Linn County Jail on the sexual abuse conviction. They read Phillips a Miranda warning, and he signed a waiver and agreed to talk with investigators.

Investigators asked whether he knew if others were involved in the crime. Phillips denied knowing anything about Harris’ death. He said he wanted a lawyer, and the investigators ended the interview.

On March 29, investigators had some follow-up questions and again asked if they could speak with Phillips. He waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk, according to court documents. 

Defense lawyer Sara Smith, in a motion filed Jan. 10, argues all Phillips’ statements should be kept out of trial because he asked for a lawyer March 1. The investigators violated his rights on the second visit because Phillips, who had remained in jail, already asked not to be questioned without his lawyer.

In the motion, Smith contends that a defendant who has invoked the right not to speak to authorities without a lawyer “is not subject to further interrogation” until a lawyer is present.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, in a motion, said there was a break in Miranda custody of over 14 days before the second interview. According to case law, when a suspect is “released from his pretrial custody and returned to his normal life for some time” before another attempted interrogation, there is little reason to think that his agreement to talk has been coerced, which was the court’s concern.

The time between interviews would give a suspect time to seek advice from an attorney and a previous experience of being interrogated makes the suspect aware that asking for a lawyer will stop an interrogation, according to the motion.

A hearing on this issue is set for Jan. 27 in Linn County District Court.     Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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